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Preview: Michigan State to clash with No. 1 Minnesota in Big Ten semifinals

March 11, 2023
Junior defenseman Nash Nienhuis (4) tries to get the puck off of University of a Minnesota player at Munn Ice Arena on Dec. 2, 2022. The Spartans lost to the Gophers with score 5-0.
Junior defenseman Nash Nienhuis (4) tries to get the puck off of University of a Minnesota player at Munn Ice Arena on Dec. 2, 2022. The Spartans lost to the Gophers with score 5-0.

Riding high from its first-ever Big Ten Tournament series win, Michigan State hockey is now faced with its most daunting task of the season: No. 1 Minnesota on the road in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. 

After dropping the first quarter finals game to Notre Dame, MSU came back the second night to force game three

Standout performances on the weekend from graduate student goaltender Dylan St. Cyr, senior forward Nicolas Müller and junior forward Jeremy Davidson, among others, carried the Spartans to 4-2 victories on Saturday and Sunday, advancing them to the semifinal round for the first time. 

Michigan State will now need to knock off the first-seeded Golden Gophers on their home ice if it wants a shot at the conference championship game next Saturday. A loss would send the Spartans back to East Lansing, ending their season. 

An upset by MSU won’t be easy, as Minnesota leads the regular season series 4-0.

“They’re a team, with the skill they have upfront, they don’t need many chances to make you pay,” Head Coach Adam Nightingale said. “They have some guys that can really finish. … It’s not easy to create against them, but when you look at, again, some of those stretches we had, we got to build off of those and look at those moments – ‘I think this is what we did well, and this is us.’” 

Back in December, the Gophers picked up 5-0 and 6-3 victories over the Spartans in East Lansing, handing them their first sweep of the season. 

Most recently, MSU traveled to Minneapolis in January for the second meeting between the teams this year. The Spartans were shut out 8-0 in an embarrassing first-night performance, but returned to the ice much more put together for game two. After leading 1-0 and 2-1 in the second period, Michigan State ultimately fell to the Gophers 6-3, extending its losing streak against Minnesota to 13. 

History shows it will most likely be an uphill battle, but the Spartans are confident in their abilities. 

“In college hockey … momentum plays a huge role,” team captain and graduate student forward Miroslav Mucha said. “I think we are riding the high wave now, and maybe that they didn't play last weekend might help us a little bit, that they might not expect the speed that's going to come at them, and hopefully we can get a couple of quick ones and that will help us to get the result we want.” 

Scouting the Gophers

The last time Minnesota and Michigan State met in the Big Ten Tournament was in 2021, when the Gophers narrowly defeated the Spartans 2-1 in overtime during the quarterfinal round.

MSU has struggled to stop Minnesota’s dominating offense full of NHL prospects all year, as the Gophers outscored them 25-6 during the regular season. 

“Going in there, especially in their belly – it's a big ice. We got to play on top of them, we got to be physical,” fifth-year defenseman Cole Krygier said. “I think most times we played them we haven't been as physical as we could. There's times when you need to take advantage and score against them too. They capitalize on pretty much all of their chances, so when we get the chance we need to put it in the back of the net.”

Freshman forward Logan Cooley recorded three goals and seven assists, while his linemates sophomore forward Matthew Knies and freshman forward Jimmy Snuggerud each scored four times against the Spartans. Senior forward Bryce Brodzinski notched three goals of his own.

Snuggerud and Cooley sit atop Minnesota’s stats chart with 36 points each. Senior goaltender Justen Close was in the net for Minnesota during their four wins, boasting a 1.50 goals against average, a .949 save percentage and two shutouts.

Puck drop is set for Saturday at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT in Minneapolis at 3M Arena at Mariucci. The semifinal game will be televised on the Big Ten Network. 

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