Coming off a split series against Arizona State Sunday and Monday, the Michigan State hockey team (7-11-2) is right back at it for a two game series at No. 4 Minnesota (16-5-0) Friday and Saturday night.
Minnesota started out the season scorching hot winning their first 10 games of the season. But, they are now 16-5 in their last 11 games with three losses against Wisconsin and two losses against Notre Dame.
The Spartans and Golden Gophers last met Dec. 3 and 4 in East Lansing with Minnesota taking both games with a score of 3-1 and 4-2.
Michigan State head coach Danton Cole believes the Gophers demonstrated their extreme depth in that series and the Spartans cannot take any shifts off this weekend.
“They are four lines deep and they are all dangerous. It is not like hey we can rest with this line out there. It is not the way it is,” Cole said. “And then their D-men are going to be jumping and being involved and I like it that way. When you play good teams you got to be ready and you should play that way anyhow.”
When the two teams last met in the Twin Cities in 2019-20, Minnesota took the first game 4-1, but then the Spartans took game two 4-2 thanks to three third period goals.
The Golden Gophers have seven skaters with at least 14 points. For comparison, Michigan State has just two skaters with double digit points, senior forward Mitchell Lewandowski and junior defenseman Dennis Cesana, both at 11 apiece.
Minnesota’s offensive depth is led by junior forwards Sampo Ranta and Sammy Walker who are both at 22 points on the year. Ranta is tied for second in the country in goals with 14 while Walker is not too far behind him at 11 goals.
Senior Jack Lafontaine mans the net for Minnesota and he has been fantastic for head coach Bob Motzko. Lafontaine ranks second in the nation in goals allowed per game with 1.56 while also ranking third in the nation in save percentage at .943. He will be coming into the matchup with MSU with a little bit of confidence after shutting out Notre Dame in two straight games last weekend.
“With Lafontaine, we are going to have to get in front of him. The power play has got to be clicking and we are going to have to get in his head a little bit and make his job tough,” Lewandowski said.
Lewandowski is just one point away from reaching the impressive 100-point career mark after notching a goal and an assist in two games against Arizona State. He had a really good chance at the waning minutes of Monday’s game with a shot on an empty net from center ice, but just barely missed the net wide.
“I kind of joked around and said I did not want to do it with an empty net so I am kind of just rolling with that right now to give it a smile, but obviously I wish I could have put that in there to end and close the game up,” Lewandowski said Wednesday. “Whenever it happens, it happens. Not really too focused on it, just go with the flow.”
The Spartan’s second line consisting of sophomore forward Jagger Joshua, sophomore center Nicolas Müller, and Lewandowski was firing on all cylinders Sunday and Monday contributing three goals and two assists. MSU will need that play to continue from those three, as well as the other lines too.