Hockey faces tough test in trip to Minnesota

MSU hockey will look to get back on track this weekend in potentially its toughest two games of season at top-ranked Minnesota.

MSU (8-12-3 overall, 2-4-2-2 Big Ten) will travel to No. 1 Minnesota (18-2-4, 7-0-1) for a two-game conference series, with games on Friday and Saturday. MSU is the only team in conference play to earn a tie or better against Minnesota.

The Spartans are entering a tough road series coming off one of its worst games of the year, a 5-2 loss to then-No. 14 Michigan (12-6-2, 4-2-0). The Golden Gophers are a different story, entering the homestead without a loss — technically, not counting MSU’s shootout victory — in the last 12 games, a stretch dating back to Nov. 24.

Head coach Tom Anastos said the Golden Gophers create potentially the toughest match-up in the country because their defensemen can score just as much as their forwards.

“They’re (a) very talented, very deep team and probably present challenges even beyond what a Michigan or some other schools present because they create a lot of offense out of their defense,” Anastos said.

Minnesota ranks second in the country in total offense and third in total defense.

This weekend series will be the third and fourth times these two teams meet, with MSU experiencing success earlier against Minnesota. MSU fought to a 2-2 tie with a shootout victory in the first game, and lost 3-2 the following night in a competitive game.

In the 2-2 tie against Minnesota, sophomore goaltender Jake Hildebrand made 44 saves and three stops in the shootout as well. Hildebrand said limiting solid scoring chances through the defenseman’s play was big in that game’s outcome.

“The defense played great, our penalty kill was awesome, we limited their chances to outside, which makes my job easy, and (we) put pucks to the net and got bodies to the net,” Hildebrand said.

Sophomore forward Michael Ferrantino, who had one goal in the first two games against Minnesota, has been holding the hot stick as of late for MSU. Ferrantino has goals in the last three games and points in five of the last six. He has three goals and three assists during the stretch, and leads MSU in points in Big Ten games.

Outside of the loud crowd, another aspect that comes into play when traveling to Mariucci Arena is the larger sheet of ice. Mariucci Arena, home of Minnesota, has an Olympic-sized rink, which is 15 feet wider than the standard North American-sized rink that most college teams play on, such as Munn Ice Arena.

Sophomore defenseman John Draeger, who is a Minnesota native, said the larger rink adds a unique element to the game, and aids their speedy forwards.

“You just want to keep the play in front of you, don’t want to get beat, especially because they have fast forwards,” Draeger said. “… All of our defenseman are just going to keep it simple, move the puck and stay positionally sound.”

Both games will be televised this weekend. Friday’s game begins at 9 p.m. on Big Ten Network and Saturday’s at 8 p.m. on Fox Sports Detroit Plus.

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