Icers down No. 3 Minnesota, 4-3
Last season, the fans at Munn Ice Arena waited patiently for the MSU hockey team to turn the corner toward a winning season. Even as it appeared the team had the right pieces, the season came and went and they never found the right fit.
However, this year’s team quickly is building a different reputation as one of the toughest opponents to play in college hockey. On Friday, the No. 20 Spartans made another step in the right direction, as they found a way to grind out a 4-3 win against No. 3 Minnesota at Munn Ice Arena in the first game of a two-game weekend series.
“We’re obviously very happy with the result tonight,” head coach Tom Anastos said. “That’s an awfully good team, a very explosive team that has lots of depth. Without question so far up until this point in the season, it’s the best team we’ve played. I thought our guys competed real hard.”
In the first two-game regular season series against the Golden Gophers since 1981, the Spartans (8-5-0, 4-4-0 CCHA) knew Minnesota would give them all they could handle.
Considering the Spartans would be without their captain junior forward Torey Krug and one of their leading scorers sophomore forward Greg Wolfe — who were DQ’d in the series against Northern Michigan and were forced to miss Friday’s game — the team would need a strong effort to pull out a win.
In the first period, Kevin Walrod got the scoring going early. Walrod took a pass close to the net from senior center Brett Perlini and deposited a shot over the left arm of Golden Gopher goalie Kent Patterson at 8:12 to give MSU a 1-0 advantage. The Spartans weren’t done in the first, as freshman forward Brett Darnell scored on a backhanded shot at 12:25 to extend the lead to 2-0.
The goal was the first of Darnell’s Spartan career and it gave MSU some much needed confidence on the attack early in the game.
Later in the period, a span of less than a minute showed why the Golden Gophers have one of the top scoring teams in the nation. At 16:47 in the first period, defenseman Seth Helgeson found the back of the net on a laser of a shot from the right hash mark. The dust had hardly settled moments later when the team’s leading goal-scorer Nick Bjugstad carried the puck to the right circle and beat Spartan goalie Drew Palmisano at 17:34 to tie the game, 2-2.
After a quiet second period, the scoring would again commence in the third. The Spartans took an interference penalty to start the period but it wouldn’t stop their attack, as Walrod would notch his second goal of the game after beating a defender on a one-on-one opportunity at 3:08 to give his team the 3-2 lead. Two minutes later, the arena would be brought to a fever pitch when freshman forward Matt Berry scored and extended the lead to 4-2.
With the goal, Berry has scored in consecutive games for the first time in his career and it now gives him three goals on the season.
The Golden Gophers would score in the period on a goal by Bjugstad but other scoring chances fell by the wayside due to the strong performance of Palmisano. After not playing for nearly three weeks in favor of sophomore goalie Will Yanakeff, Palmisano made 40 saves and was integral in pulling out arguably the toughest win of the season.
“It’s probably one of my top (wins) at Michigan State,” Palmisano said. “It felt good out there and it doesn’t hurt when you score four goals and you get support and the move that (Walrod) did to score was unbelievable.”
Despite getting one of the season’s biggest wins, the Spartans know their mission isn’t complete. After last weekend’s Saturday swoon following a strong effort Friday against Northern Michigan, the Spartans will be on high alert when they close out the series with Minnesota at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Munn Ice Arena.
But the win will prove important for what Anastos and his staff are building and it certainly gives the players confidence heading into the month of December.
“We knew the caliber of team Minnesota was coming in and we also know the caliber of team we think of ourselves,” junior center Anthony Hayes said. “Regardless of where they were ranked, we expected a good match and we knew we’re going to do everything in our power to give ourselves the best chance to win and that’s exactly what we did.”