The last time No. 18 Michigan State hockey met No. 1 Minnesota was Jan. 28, when the Spartans outplayed the Golden Gophers for the first half of regulation.
It was the first time all season that MSU (18-17-2, 10-12-2 Big Ten) had a lead on the top team in the Big Ten and it did so on the road in one of the biggest college hockey facilities, 3M Arena at Mariucci.
After the opponents skated a scoreless first period, freshman forward Karsen Dorwart put the Spartans ahead 1-0 in the second frame for 65 seconds, before freshman forward Jimmy Snuggerud tied it for the Gophers. MSU climbed back on top once more thanks to freshman forward Daniel Russell.
One major infraction, a game misconduct and five Minnesota tallies later, the wheels fell off and the Gophers defeated the Spartans for a fourth time this season.
MSU will have a fifth and final chance to get revenge on Minnesota (25-8-1, 19-4-1 Big Ten) during the Big Ten Tournament semifinals round at Mariucci on Saturday at 9 p.m.
“We want to go there and make sure we put our best foot forward,” MSU head hockey coach Adam Nightingale said Monday. “There were stretches where I thought we played really good against them and we got to find a way to do that for 60 minutes.”
The keys to the Spartans having success on Saturday will be starting strong, getting to the net and capitalizing on scoring opportunities to offset Minnesota’s stellar offense and goaltending.
“We need to be dialed in and focused,” fifth-year defenseman Cole Krygier said. “They run a lot of face-off plays and they’re gonna try to get guys behind us with a lot of speed. I think making sure our (defensemen) are gapping well and our forwards are tracking pucks all over the ice, if that’s forechecking or if that’s backchecking."
"I think they like to hit their fourth guys high in the zone and their (defensemen) are really good, so they're going to create offense – they're going to score goals for them – if we give them opportunities like that.”
Another factor the Spartans have to take into account when traveling to Minneapolis is the Olympic-sized rink at Mariucci.
“For me personally, the big rink is awesome,” Krygier said. “The way I can move my feet and skate and try and generate plays, especially in the offensive zone – Having that extra 15 feet on each side of the boards is really helpful. … For the team, obviously, it's different. We're gonna have to track outside the dots a little bit more and make sure we don't have two guys outside of the dots we're defending.”
Fresh off its first-ever Big Ten Tournament series win, MSU has perhaps its most difficult test ahead, but the Spartans are confident they have what it takes to pull off an upset.
“Coming into this week, I think everyone just knows what we need to do,” Krygier said. “Obviously, Minnesota is a really good team. We haven't beat them yet this year, so this would probably be the best time to.”
MSU captain and graduate student forward Miroslav Mucha emphasized the team’s mindset heading into the semifinal round.
“I think this Saturday is gonna be about us, and I like our chances for one game,” Mucha said. “I think we can take it to them and win that series.”