Excitement is growing in East Lansing as No. 13 Michigan State hockey (11-4-1, 5-2-1 Big Ten) continues to rise in the national rankings. The Spartans have won seven of their last eight games, and now face No. 4 Minnesota in an early battle for the top of the Big Ten at Munn Ice Arena on Friday and Saturday.
The Golden Gophers currently sit at the top of the conference with 18 points, with the Spartans trailing by one.
Despite already proving themselves as a contender early in the season, graduate goaltender Dylan St. Cyr said the Spartans know they’re not finished.
“I think we've been able to bring recognition to the work that we've done so far,” St. Cyr said. “But I don't think we're satisfied by any means and where we want to be. So I think that's something we still want to strive to continue to get better and something that we'll continue to do moving forward.”
MSU spent the last two weekends on the road, with its first stop in State College where it picked up a 4-3 loss and 7-3 win over No. 6 Penn State. Over the holiday weekend, the Spartans traveled to Oxford, Ohio where they swept Miami with 5-3 and 4-0 victories.
One of MSU’s top scorers, senior forward Jagger Joshua, sat out of Friday’s game due to a string of problematic penalties, with freshman forward Tiernan Shoudy stepping into Joshua’s spot in the first line.
Despite the absence of their leading left wing, the Spartans split the work and defeated Miami 5-3 in a full-team effort. Junior forward Jeremy Davidson led with four points, including two goals. Sophomore forward Jesse Tucker, fifth-year defenseman Cole Krygier and graduate forward Miroslav Mucha put up the other three goals.
Joshua returned to the ice on Saturday and managed to stay out of the penalty box for the duration of the game. His linemates freshman forwards Karsen Dorwart and Daniel Russell powered the 4-0 win with help from St. Cyr.
Dorwart earned a natural hat trick, while Russell sealed the deal putting up the Spartans’ fourth and final goal of the night.
“I think we're able to find each other all over the ice pretty well,” Dorwart said. “We don’t force plays or anything, I think it comes kind of natural, so that's helped a lot with us. I think you see that with a lot of the other ones too. We're getting scoring from everywhere, so it's not just one line that's doing the scoring – it’s all four.”
St. Cyr had 69 saves on the weekend with Saturday’s victory being his second shutout of the season and 12th all-time. St. Cyr now holds a 0.934 save percentage, the fifth best in the nation.
“It was a good weekend for our team,” Head Coach Adam Nightingale said. “The first night I thought we did a lot of really good stuff, same about the second night, I thought that Dylan was great. We kind of spread out scoring and guys contributed at different times. We've had a good week of practice here and looking forward to the weekend.”
Looking to the Golden Gophers
Minnesota (11-5, 6-2 Big Ten) is coming off a split series at Arizona State last weekend, recording a 3-2 win and 6-5 overtime loss.
Known for their speedy, skilled offense, the Golden Gophers will be one of MSU’s toughest opponents yet.
“They got a lot of depth, a lot of speed, a lot of skill throughout their lineup, and I think they play a brand of hockey that's really taxing, you got to be really good away from the puck.” Nightingale said. “They have a really good coaching staff, guys have been doing it a long time, and so this will be a really good test for our group and we're excited for it.”
Although Minnesota has seen success on both sides of the puck this season, the stats suggest it could be a fairly even matchup.
MSU is averaging 3.62 goals to Minnesota’s 3.88. The Spartans also surrender 2.31 goals per game (first in Big Ten) while the Golden Gophers have allowed 2.62.
As for power plays, Minnesota is 14-58 while MSU is 13-62. The Spartans have a slight advantage on the penalty kill with a rate of .844 to the Gophers’ .800.
Forwards Jimmy Snuggerud and Matthew Knies are Minnesota’s leading goal scorers with 10 and nine respectively. Snuggerud tops the chart with 20 points on the season. Goaltender Justen Close has 274 saves and a GAA of 2.22. At the same time, MSU's St. Cyr holds a 2.13 GAA and 453 saves.
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Puck drop is Friday at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday at 6 p.m., with both games broadcasted on Big Ten Network.
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