East Lansing, MI – Wins away from home have been awfully difficult to come by this season for the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Usually a tough draw on the road, the Gophers had only won two games away from the friendly confines of Mariucci Arena (a 2-0 win against Union in the Icebreaker, and a 2-1 win over North Dakota in Grand Forks) throughout the 2017-2018 season prior to this weekend’s series at Michigan State. Despite a mid-game 4-1 lead, the Gophers had to pull out a nailbiter, prevailing after Tyler Sheehy netted the game-winner with just 2:48 left in the third period to break a 4-4 tie and send Minnesota (14-12-1 Overall, 5-9-1 B1G) home happy with a 5-4 win.
A lot has been made of the lively boards at Munn Ice arena, and those boards were on full display Thursday, factoring into two Spartan goals on the night. Michigan State (9-15-1, 3-11-1) scored the first goal of the game 6:47 into the opening frame when a Tommy Miller shot from the blue line caromed off the end boards and to the front of the net for a waiting Mitchell Lewandowski. The goal was the freshman’s 15th of the season.
Bouncing pucks would continue to play a role in this game, and helped the Gophers tie the game at 1-1 with just over six minutes to play in the first. Jack Ramsey lobbed a dump-in from center ice that took one wicked bounce about four feet in front of Spartan goalie John Lethemon and ricocheted into the net.
The biggest turning points of the game came on special teams play early in the second period. Minnesota took the lead on the powerplay at 1:48 of the second when Steve Johnson’s shot from the point found the twine to give Minnesota a slim 2-1 lead. Just 20 seconds later, Gopher blueliner Clayton Phillips was given the gate for a checking-from-behind. The five-minute power play could have been a real spark for the Spartans, but Minnesota took advantage, scoring two shorthanded goals (Sheehy from Gates, Novak from Sheehy) on the penalty to break the game open at 4-1.
Just 40 seconds after the Novak goal to put Minnesota up by three, Michigan State’s Jerad Rosburg was called for a five-minute major, giving the Gophers an opportunity to drive the final nail into the Spartan coffin. However, Michigan State’s Taro Hirose was able to score shorthanded for the home team to pull the Spartans within two at 4-2. Hirose scored five-on-five late in the period to draw MSU back within one at 4-3 heading into the second intermission.
Despite being outshot through two periods by a 29-14 margin, despite being down 4-1 and staring at a 5-minute Gopher powerplay, the Spartans were only down a goal going into the third, and had to believe that they could steal this game.
Neither team wanted to make a mistake in the third, but the lively boards at Munn Ice Arena struck yet again at 11:57 of the third. Butrus Ghafari’s dump-in deflected off the corner boards and towards the side of Gopher goalie Eric Schierhorn’s net. Schierhorn tried to slide over to cover the post, but the funny bounce rattled off his equipment and somehow managed to drop behind him and into the net, tying the game at 4-4 with just over eight minutes left in the contest.
The road has not been friendly to the Gophers this year, but Tyler Sheehy made sure that Thursday night wouldn’t end badly. The junior captain scored his ninth of the year on an unassisted wrister from the mid-slot with just 2:48 left in the third to propel Minnesota to the much-needed victory.
The Gophers are off Friday, traveling to New York City to square off against Michigan State again at Madison Square Garden Saturday night. The game is at 8 Eastern / 7 Central, and can be seen on BTN, streamed on BTN2Go, and heard on AM1130.