Coming off of a split weekend against the University of Michigan with a loss at home and a road win, the Spartans are headed back to Munn Ice Arena after a weekend of ups and downs to host the Minnesota Golden Gophers and work towards a sweep, in hopes to maintain a first place spot in the Big Ten.
With that tough loss against Michigan, the Spartans knew that the emotions and excitement of the rivalry weekend was something that needed to be controlled in order to get back to their game.
“We kind of let emotions get the best of us, and that’s my responsibility to teach the guys how to control them,” head coach Adam Nightingale said. "Obviously we didn’t do a good job of that and ended up giving up four power play goals and so you move onto the next game.”
The team has already seen the Gophers before when the two teams played in Minnesota over Thanksgiving break and brought back a split series: a win in a shootout and a loss in five minute overtime. But, the team still brought back three points.
“(Minnesota) is a very skillful team, well coached, very dangerous on the power play and have a lot of similarities to Michigan,” Nightingale said. “With the talent they have and they can make you pay off the rush for sure. They have a young D-core that’s improved since the last time we saw them, and they’re a team that’s had a lot of success in our conference and has a lot of pride in their program.”
With a week of practice to put in much needed work, the team has worked on a few things and talked about a handful of strategies to help them lead into a successful weekend with the Golden Gophers.
“We know we’re going to see their best and I think that’s really for our guys' development right now, and we’re not sneaking up on anyone,” Nightingale said. “I think that’s an unbelievable experience, and understanding how ready you have to be to play.”
From playing the Golden Gophers in mid-November, to jumping ahead to play them in mid-January, there have been notable differences in the way the game has been played for the Spartans and the large improvements that have been made.
"I think our backend has improved, and there were moments where we needed to be better," Nightingale said. "If you look at last weekend for sure that, and I mean, we've got 15 new guys and I think that's a big turnover, so just getting used to playing to our identity and playing to our standard. Everyone in college hockey improves throughout the year."
Being in the conference of the Big Ten, a lot of other teams in the country don’t have to play the Gophers or the Wolverines like Michigan State does. Even after the tough loss to Michigan, the practices stay the same because the team knows exactly what needs to be done to pull off upsets or sweeps to these extremely tough teams.
“We kind of approach every week the same, just a really hard mindset,” freshman forward Gavin O'Connell said. “Knowing on and off the ice we worked really hard, but that’s ultimately going to set us up for a great weekend, and obviously go into every weekend seeing a big opportunity to get some big points and that’s what we're doing this weekend as well.”
There is nothing short of chemistry on the team, and between the weekend against the Wolverines, there is a similar mindset that will need to be brought for Minnesota, as well as for the remaining weeks of the season. As the Big Ten leaders, Michigan State needs to keep the chemistry where it is now and make sure they do not give up unlikely losses to other Big Ten teams.
“I think obviously our captains do a great job of just leading us, but I think everyone takes responsibility and just kind of creates energy for each other,” O’Connell said.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers are currently on a five-game heater right now, sweeping two weekends in a row and splitting a weekend as well, putting them on a huge winning streak.
Minnesota is currently 14-6-4 overall and is 7-4-3 in the Big Ten Conference, with conference losses coming from Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Penn State. The team currently sits in fourth place in the Big Ten behind Notre Dame with 23 points and 11 points out of Michigan State's number one spot.
The Spartans are at Munn Ice Arena for a Friday night matchup on Jan. 26 at 6 p.m. and will be streamed on Big Ten Plus. The second match is set to start on Saturday, Jan. 27 at 4 p.m. and will be streamed on Big Ten Network.
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