The No. 20 Michigan State Spartans (11-9-1) took on the Minnesota Gophers (7-10-4) in their first of two games this weekend at Munn Ice Arena Friday night.
"It was kind of a weird finish to a pretty good hockey game, but I was real happy with how the guys played," coach Danton Cole said. "We talk a lot about playing that way and being on the right side of the puck and I thought they did."
The opening face-off began at 6 p.m. sharp, and Minnesota junior center Scott Reedy snapped the puck immediately out of reach from MSU’s junior center Tommy Apap.
Within the first six minutes of the game, senior center Patrick Khodorenko relentlessly fired back-to-back shots on the Minnesota goal, saved by Minnesota junior goalie Jack LaFontaine. Not long after, a penalty was flagged on Minnesota senior forward Joey Marooney for holding.
This penalty began the first power-play opportunity for the Spartans at 13:33 remaining, where Khodorenko took yet another chance to score. The puck bounced off LaFontaine’s chest and was battled back around for the first green and white goal of the game by junior forward Mitchell Lewandowski, assisted by senior forward Sam Saliba and Khodorenko.
"They're playing well and they're dangerous," Cole said in regard to Lewandowski, Saliba and Khodorenko. "You give Patty or Louis a puck in the right area and good things usually happen."
Just 30 seconds later, junior forward Gianluca Esteves didn’t hesitate to slip the second Spartan goal between LaFontaine’s legs, assisted by Apap. The Spartans didn’t stop trying there. With 10:08 remaining, sophomore defender Dennis Cesana attempted what could’ve been a third goal, but it was saved by LaFontaine.
The first period of the game was battled brutally, and mostly on the Minnesota side of the ice, as the Spartans held their ground.
With four minutes remaining, there was another penalty flagged, this time on senior defender Butrus Ghafari for holding the stick. This penalty began the first power-play opportunity for the Gophers, but there was still no luck granted for the maroon and gold and as the Minnesota power-play came to a close with 1:32 left on the clock, that previously dreamed-of third goal was gifted to the Spartans by Khodorenko, making that his 11th of the 2019-20 season overall.
The final score for the first period of the game stood Spartans: 3, Gophers: 0.
With the second period of the game underway, the previous goalie for Minnesota, LaFontaine, was replaced by freshman Jared Moe.
Two minutes in, the second Minnesota penalty of the game was flagged on senior defender Tyler Nanne for tripping, kick-starting the second power-play opportunity of the game for MSU. This sent the Spartans into a shootout frenzy as Cesana, Khodorenko and senior forward Logan Lambdin took their calls and fired quick three shots on the Gopher goal, all saved by Moe.
When the penalty on Nanne was lifted, there was roughly a 20-second gap before the second MSU penalty of the game was flagged on sophomore forward Adam Goodsir for interference, opening the second power-play opportunity of the game for Minnesota.
Senior goalie John Lethemon stood strong in the green and white net. At 9:14 remaining, he caught a shot made by Minnesota's sophomore forward Garrett Wait in his glove, sending it back out on the ice for his teammates to pick up.
Saliba received Lethemon’s message and only 11 seconds later, with assistance from redshirt senior Jerad Rosburg, he had sunk the fourth Spartan goal of the game, making that his seventh of the 2019-20 season overall.
As the second period neared its end, the Gophers pumped up their energy, fighting harder to make it on the scoreboard, but again coming up unsuccessful.
Another penalty was flagged on Minnesota, freshman forward Bryce Brodzinski sent to the box for roughing. The Michigan State power-play opportunity was started in this period and finished shortly into the third.
The final score for the second period of the game now stood Spartans: 4, Gophers: 0.
The third and final period of the night was the most aggressive. A small brawl had broken out by the Spartan goal only four minutes in, and both teams saw their skaters sent to the penalty box: sophomore defender Christian Krygier for slashing, freshman forward Nicolas Müller served Krygier’s time for roughing, and Minnesota's Marooney, also for slashing.
Six minutes later, three more Michigan State penalties were thrown down: Lewandowski for hooking, Cesana for cross-checking, and the entire MSU team for having too many players on the ice, which was again served by Lewandowski.
Nearly 14 minutes into the last period, the Gophers finally made their debut on the scoreboard with a goal by freshman defender Jackson Lacombe, assisted by sophomore forwards Sammy Walker and Blake McLaughlin.
The Spartans held their early lead down to the buzzer, with a landslide 4-1 victory for the green and white.
This is the first time in history that Michigan State has beat Minnesota in four consecutive games.
"They got a lot of guys that can make plays, and I thought we did a really good job with that tonight," Cole said. "We didn’t really give much up off the rush. ... Hard and smart, and I enjoy that."
The Spartans are scheduled for a second match-up against Minnesota tomorrow, hoping for another smooth win against the Gophers to be taken at Munn Ice Arena.