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MSU hockey falls short of comeback, drops game one of series to No. 11 Minnesota

December 9, 2016
Sophomore wingman Mason Appleton (27) and Minnesota wingman Vinni Lettieri (19) face off during the first period in the game against Minnesota on Dec. 9, 2016 at Munn Ice Arena.
Sophomore wingman Mason Appleton (27) and Minnesota wingman Vinni Lettieri (19) face off during the first period in the game against Minnesota on Dec. 9, 2016 at Munn Ice Arena.

MSU hockey head coach Tom Anastos said during his weekly press conference Tuesday that he was anxious to see how his team would respond after wins over Ferris State and a win and a draw against North Dakota. He got his answer Friday night as the Spartans fell 4-2 to No. 11 Minnesota.

The Spartans struggled to generate shots on goal and finished the game with just 14 shots, but junior goaltender Ed Minney kept the Spartans in the game.

Minney had a career day. His 40 saves were the most saves in a game in his Spartan career. His previous high was against Michigan Tech on Nov. 22, 2015 in which he recorded 34 saves.

MSU was able to shut down Minnesota’s power play scoring opportunities. The Gophers entered Friday’s matchup ranked No. 9 in the NCAA on the man advantage, but left East Lansing without a power play goal.

The Spartans had to look to their youth as junior defenseman Carson Gatt was inactive after he suffered a lower body injury in MSU’s 5-1 exhibition victory over USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program Sunday.

Freshman defenseman Butrus Ghafari, however, did bring some relief on the defensive side of the puck. After not playing in Sunday’s win over the USNTDP due to an upper respiratory issue, the 5-foot-11 freshman was active for Friday’s game.

MSU managed to get on the board first early in the first period. 3:30 into the first frame, senior forward JT Stenglein picked up the puck in the neutral zone along the boards and skated to the left side of Minnesota’s zone. A wrist shot from the left circle sailed past Gophers’ goalie Eric Schierhorn for his first goal of the season and it gave the Spartans an early 1-0 lead.

Stenglein had another excellent scoring opportunity on an odd-man rush later in the period, but this time, his shot was blocked by Minnesota goaltender Eric Schierhorn.

After a late hit on Stenglein after the whistle was blown, the Spartans went on the power play for their first of the game. The Gophers managed to kill the penalty and keep the deficit at just one.

Minnesota responded to Stenglein’s goal midway through the first period. With 9:06 left in the first frame, the Gophers’ leading scorer, Tyler Sheehy, earned an assist as forward Justin Kloos proceeded to score his seventh goal of the season for the Gophers.

After a barrage of scoring chances for Minnesota near the end of the first period, Minney didn’t give way to the Gophers and kept the score tied.

MSU went into the locker room tied, 1-1, at the end of the first period and trailing the Golden Gophers in shots, 16-8.

As the second period began, MSU was unable to generate much offense. Midway through the second period, the Spartans managed to record just a single shot on goal.

Minney continued to make huge saves for the Spartans, but 12:26 into the second frame, Sheehy shot a puck that sailed past Minney to give the Gophers their first lead of the game.

Just under two minutes later, a blunder from Minney behind the net gave forward Venni Lettieri an easy scoring opportunity. Lettieri took advantage and gave the Gophers a 3-1 lead with 5:41 remaining in the second period.

When it seemed Minnesota was starting to pull away from MSU, the Spartans first line of Taro Hirose, Patrick Khodorenko and Mason Appleton scored the second goal of the game for MSU. A shot from Hirose found the back of the net to cut the Gophers’ lead to just one with 3:03 left in the second period.

The Spartans struggled to get a shot on goal in the second period. Heading into the locker room, MSU registered just three shots on goal compared to Minnesota’s 13.

MSU’s offense continued to struggle in the third period as it was only able to generate a mere three shots on goal.

Down 3-2 with 1:37 left in the game, Minney was pulled from the net hoping for a last minute goal to tie the game.

36 seconds later, forward Darian Romanko lobbed the puck in the air and found the net to put away any last chance for a Spartan comeback, making the game 4-2.

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The Spartans will have a chance to rebound from this loss tomorrow when they play the Gophers again at 8 p.m. at Munn Ice Arena. The game will also be on Big Ten Network for the second straight night.

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