Senior forward Mitchell Lewandowski is an extremely valuable asset for Michigan State. The statistics speak for themselves.
With Lewandowski scratched after leaving MSU's last game with an injury, the Spartan offense struggled to create dangerous scoring chances, falling 4-1 to Minnesota.
Meeting for the first time since a heartbreaking loss in overtime of the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan State looked to defeat the uber talented Minnesota Golden Gophers for the first time since the 2019-20 season.
The opening period featured some early fireworks with the visitors jumping out to an early lead.
MSU was whistled for the game’s first penalty on a holding call from freshman defenseman David Gucciardi, who scored three goals in two games in last week’s Great Lakes Invitational. The Gophers man advantage was cut in half on an odd play where Michigan State defenseman Christian Krygier snapped Minnesota’s Sammy Walker’s stick in half. Walker continued to play with the broken stick and was sent to the penalty box.
The Spartans were awarded a short power play but would end up paying the price on the games’ first goal.
Senior defenseman Dennis Cesana ripped a shot from the point that was blocked as the power play expired and he was caught in a pinch. Simultaneously, Walker jumped out of the box and headed up ice for a two-on-one with his linemate, senior forward Blake McLaughlin. An odd man rush with two of Minnesota’s top forwards is dangerous and the two Minnesota natives capitalized on a goal from Walker.
Six minutes later Minnesota pushed its lead to two goals and a phenomenal shot from a tough angle by junior center Ben Meyers.
Just when it looked like MSU would be in for a long night versus one of top teams in the Big Ten, the two-goal deficit woke the Spartans up and they played with a different energy. Michigan State outshot Minnesota 4-1 in the final five minutes of the period, but a shot through traffic from sophomore defenseman Nash Nienhuis went over the pad of UMN goaltender Jack LaFontaine. The goal was Nienhuis’ first career goal after being held scoreless in 45 career games.
The Spartans spent a majority of the first 10 minutes of the middle period on the penalty kill, thanks to a trio of penalties.
In the midst of killing their second penalty, a roughing call on senior defenseman Cole Krygier, a loose puck set up a near breakaway for MSU. LaFontaine came far out of his cage and was met by junior winger Jagger Joshua, perhaps Michigan State's most physical player. The two had an enormous collision that dumped both foes on the ice in a scary incident. Joshua was convicted for charging while LaFontaine stayed in net and boos rained throughout the arena in disapproval of Joshua's sentence.
Michigan State killed off the 22 second five-on-three, keeping MSU within striking distance. Senior goaltender Drew DeRidder made 10 stops in the period, but a centering pass from Minnesota freshman forward Matthew Knies to Meyers gave the Gophers a 3-1 lead heading into the third period.
The Spartans had a chance to cut the Gopher lead in half with two power plays in the period. MSU mustered a few shots on LaFontaine, but it was nothing he could not handle.
Minnesota played stout defensively and put the dagger in the game on a goal from freshman forward Chaz Lucius with 3:40 to play.
DeRidder made 32 stops for the green and white.
Michigan State will get a second crack at Minnesota Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in East Lansing.
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