From sleepy to sweepy, Gophers survive a slow start and rally for 13th consecutive win versus Spartans
Trailing in the second period, the Minnesota Gophers got solid goaltending and woke up offensively to sweep their weekend series versus visiting Michigan State.
MINNEAPOLIS — It is hardly a secret to say that college students like to sleep in and move a little slower on Saturdays. But the Minnesota Gophers managed to wake up in time to do some sweeping on Saturday.
Trailing in the second period of their Hockey Day Minnesota afternoon matchup with Michigan State, the Gophers scored five unanswered goals to win 6-3, for their 13th consecutive victory over the Spartans.
"I think we were in a little bit of a mode that this would be a little easier, and it wasn't going to be," Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. "We played better as the game went on and we made some plays."
Goalie Justen Close was again the difference-maker for Minnesota (20-7-1 overall, 14-3-1 Big Ten), finishing with 26 saves and keeping the Gophers in the game during the opening 30 minutes where the Spartans dominated for long stretches. Jimmy Snuggerud had two goals and an assist in the win. Another rookie, Garrett Pinoniemi, had his second career goal, and his second in as many nights.
For Michigan State (13-13-2, 7-9-2) Karsen Dorwart had a goal and an assist, while starting goalie Dylan St. Cyr had 24 saves.
"The way it's gone around here for years, I was proud of our response, especially in that first period" said Spartans coach Adam Nightingale, crediting his team for bouncing back following a lopsided Saturday loss. "They're a really good team. Best team in our league."
The Gophers survived a sleepy, scoreless first period during which Close turned aside all dozen Spartans shots thrown his way. Minnesota had the game’s first power play, but the only shot by either team was a shorthanded breakaway by Dorwart, which Close stopped.
Motzko joked that Teamwork, the scheduling software the hockey program uses to make sure they show up on time, may have been off by an hour, hence the home club's slow start for the game which faced off at 4 p.m. CT.
"Our guys had it in their app that the game started at five tonight," he said, sarcastically. "Then they started playing. Michigan State came to play tonight. Everywhere we turned in the first period, there was a green jersey in front of us, and it was hard."
HIMmy Snuggerud 👑@jsnuggerud pic.twitter.com/F75ZoYVIms— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) January 29, 2023
The teams traded goals early in the second period, with the Spartans taking 1-0 and 2-1 leads sandwiched around Snuggerud’s 15th goal of the season, off a faceoff to the right of the Spartans net.
St. Cyr, who had been chased from Friday’s game after he allowed five goals in 40 minutes, preserved the Michigan State lead while the Gophers were on their second power play. Matthew Knies had a yawning net to shoot at before St. Cyr slid across the goalmouth for an unexpected glove save. Officials reviewed the play and determined that the goalie’s glove had not crossed the goal line.
Motzko said the officials told him the puck was only "three-quarters over" the goal line.
But the Gophers knotted things later, on a controversial scramble in front of the Spartans net. Pinoniemi poked in a loose puck after a rush to the net by Logan Cooley, although the net may have been off the moorings. After a review, the goal stood, and it was upheld after Michigan State challenged the play for potential goalie interference.
"I didn't understand the explanation. I guess I don't know the rule," Nightingale said. "They said it was still in contact with the peg, but it was off. I've never seen that before."
Not long after that, Bryce Brodzinski’s breakaway goal gave the Gophers their first lead.
We remain unconvinced that @matthew_knies is human. pic.twitter.com/H9dYt0uGdo— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) January 28, 2023
Ryan Chesley and Knies scored in the opening minutes of the final period to break the game open, before Snuggerud added his second of the game.
The Gophers most recent loss to Michigan State came in February 2020.
Benching to a breakout
After playing in most of the Gophers' first 24 games, Pinoniemi found himself among the audience of more than 20,000 who watched last weekend's split with Michigan. Motzko sat the rookie out, unsatisfied with what the coach had seen from the team's fourth line while they were winning and tying at Notre Dame a week earlier.
The time off seemed to be a difference-maker for Pinoniemi, who had what the coaches called a very solid week of practice and scored in both of the Gophers' games versus Michigan State.
"I just try to focus on the little things, winning battles and things coach Motzko said," Pinoniemi said following Saturday's game. "Just control what you can control and play your game."
His control on Saturday meant following a rocketing rush to the net by Cooley, then cleaning up a loose puck. He was not lacking offensive skills before he came to the U of M, scoring plenty in three seasons with the USHL's Sioux Falls Stampede, and averaging nearly three points per game in Pinoniemi's final prep season at Holy Family Catholic in 2018-19.
"It's good fuel for young guys to continue to build on," Motzko said of the confidence Pinoniemi is gaining by getting rewarded on the scoresheet.
Snuggerud, while not ready to give up his spot next to Cooley on the team's top line, said that seeing more freshmen emerge and gain confidence is going to help the team in February, March and, they hope, April.
"It's really good. Those guys do a lot of dirty work and they're there the whole season," Snuggerud said. "We'll need them in the long run, so it's really good to get them involved."
The Gophers’ Saturday lineup was identical to the one they put on the ice for Friday’s 8-0 win, with defensemen Matt Staudacher and Carl Fish, and forwards Charlie Strobel and John Mittelstadt as healthy scratches.
Gophers defenseman Mike Koster left the game late in the second period after a blindside hit from Spartans right winger Daniel Russell. After a video review, Russell was given a major penalty for contact to the head and ejected. Koster, who had an assist on the game’s tying goal, did not return.
The Gophers have the first weekend in February off, then dive back into Big Ten play with a series versus neighborhood rival Wisconsin on Feb. 10-11 at the Kohl Center in Madison. The Gophers have won their last five consecutive meetings with the Badgers.
Minnesota 6, Michigan State 3
Michigan State 0-2-1—3
First period — No scoring. Penalties — Jagger Joshua, MS (interference), 16:30.
Second period — 1. MS, Karsen Dorwart 8 (Matt Basgall, Nicolas Muller), 2:35, (PP). 2. MN, Jimmy Snuggerud 15 (Logan Cooley), 3:40. 3. MS, Daniel Russell 8 (Dorwart), 5:08. 4. MN, Garrett Pinoniemi 2 (Cooley, Mike Koster), 13:31. 5. MN, Bryce Brodzinski 12 (Ryan Johnson), 15:28. Penalties — Connor Kurth, MN (hooking), 2:03; Mike Koster, MN (hooking), 6:54; Zach Dubinsky, MS (tripping), 9:00; Daniel Russell, MS (5 & game misconduct – direct contact to the head), 15:53.
Third period — 6. MN, Ryan Chesley 2 (Rhett Pitlick, Aaron Huglen), 2:41. 7. MN, Matthew Knies 17 (Snuggerud, Chesley), 6:38. 8. MN, Snuggerud 16 (Knies, Brock Faber), 13:10. 9. MS, Cole Krygier 9 (Tiernan Shoudy, Joshua), 18:40. Penalties — Knies, MN (hooking), 10:35; Christian Krygier, MS (tripping), 19:52.
Shots on goal — MN 4-16-10—30; MS 12-6-11—29. Goalies — Justen Close, MN (29 shots-26 saves); Dylan St. Cyr, MS (30-24). Power plays — MN 0-of-4, MS 1-of-3. Referees — Tony DellaFranco, Tony Czech. Linesmen — Johnathan Morrison, Chad Roethlisberger. Attendance — 10,253.