Top-ranked in one poll, the Gophers are a study in contrasts as they visit new-look Spartans
Michigan State has a new coach, a new attitude and a familiar name in goal, but don't tell the Spartans that it's a big deal to have Minnesota -- ranked atop one national poll -- visiting this weekend. They're all about getting better, no matter the foe.
MINNEAPOLIS — As if the contrast of playing hockey in the desert wasn't enough, the Minnesota Gophers seem to be all about contradictions. Last weekend at Arizona State they won a game they felt they should have lost and lost a game where they outplayed the Sun Devils for long stretches. As a result, one national poll dropped them from second to fourth while the other national poll elevated them from second to first.
Prepping for a return to Big Ten play with a series at Michigan State this weekend, Gophers coach Bob Motzko didn't analyze what it all meant very thoroughly, choosing instead to look ahead and not backwards.
“There are certain weekends when they’re over that you just put right in the garbage can. You don’t talk about it again,” Motzko said after the team’s Wednesday practice. “We put that one right in the garbage can. No more to talk about it, but it was a great trip.”
The coach and players raved about the days spent in the sun in Arizona and a Thanksgiving gathering at the home of Matthew Knies that was important for team bonding. The on-ice stuff is best forgotten. Besides, with a new coaching staff and a whole new style facing them at Michigan State this weekend, where first-year man Adam Nightingale has the Spartans ranked in the top 20 nationally and is the early favorite for Big Ten coach of the year, Motzko and his staff spent much of the week breaking down video.
I told our guys we don’t need to change who we are, we just need to keep getting better.
“They’re going to be contenders at the end of the year,” Gophers captain Brock Faber said. “They’ve got a good coaching staff, they have a good mix of old and young and we’ve got to take them seriously and obviously improve on last weekend.”
Nightingale came back to his alma mater from USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, where last year he coached current Gophers like Ryan Chesley, Logan Cooley and Jimmy Snuggerud. So he has some familiarity with the maroon team that will visit East Lansing on Friday and Saturday.
There is an abundance of hype surrounding the Gophers’ visit among the hungry Spartans fan base, but for his part, Nightingale says his team’s mantra of constant improvement does not change no matter the venue or the foe.
“We’re trying to keep the same mind-set. I told our guys we don’t need to change who we are, we just need to keep getting better,” Nightingale said on Tuesday. “Regardless of the outcome of last weekend or two weekends ago or whatever, our focus is always on getting better.”
Interestingly, Nightingale took a break from practice and flew to the Twin Cities on Wednesday for a brief stop at the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony in St. Paul, where former Spartans star goalie Ryan Miller was among the class of 2022. While the Spartans coach is a new face, their top goalie is a familiar name. Dylan St. Cyr is back in the Big Ten for his final season of college hockey, having stopped pucks at Notre Dame for three years, then spending last season with Quinnipiac. He was named the Big Ten’s first star of the week heading into the Minnesota series following a nonconference sweep at Miami.
Having won seven of their last eight games, St. Cyr said the Spartans are a very confident hockey team, but are not buying into the hype with the Gophers coming to visit.
“It’s just another weekend for us, honestly,” he said. “A lot of outside people are trying to weigh in and put a lot more emphasis on this weekend than others, but we’re a very process-driven team. Each weekend we focus on the next game and kind of have the same mentality no matter who we’re playing. I don’t think it’s something that we need to blow out of proportion, but obviously Minnesota is a very good team.”
The games at Michigan State face off at 5:30 p.m. CT on Friday and 5 p.m. CT Saturday at Munn Ice Arena, on the MSU campus. Both games will be televised by Big Ten Network with Ben Holden and Fred Pletsch calling the games.
On radio, the Gophers can be heard on 1130 AM / 103.5 FM in the Twin Cities with Wally Shaver and Frank Mazzocco in their 11th season together describing the action.
The Gophers are 129-50-16 all-time versus the Spartans with their first series coming in January of 1950 in East Lansing – games the Gophers won 8-2 and 11-1. In more recent history, the Gophers have won their last nine consecutive head-to-head meetings with the Spartans.