The Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team will look to build off of a big home sweep of then #9 Clarkson as they return to Big Ten play this weekend. The Gophers will host the Michigan State Spartans for a pair of games at Mariucci Arena. It will be the second conference series of the year for the Gophers who split at home against Penn State Nittany Lions earlier this season. Meanwhile, it will be the conference opener for the Spartans who come into the weekend with a 4-2 non-conference record on the year.
The #5 ranked Gophers got a big sweep over Clarkson at home last weekend. Minnesota relied on the back of their goalie, Eric Scherhorn. Scherhorn made 44 saves on 46 shots in leading MInnesota to a 3-1 win on Friday and a 2-1 win on Saturday. For his efforts, Schierhorn was named the Big Ten’s #1 Star of the Week. Schierhorn has started in every single game for MInnesota since he joined the team as a freshman— 83 in all. That leads all active NCAA goaltenders and ranks seventh all-time in NCAA history. His 48 career wins places him just two wins away from cracking Minnesota’s all-time top-10 wins list. He will get both starts this weekend once again for Minnesota.
Offensively, the Gophers are getting production from a variety of places. Friday night it was the freshmen who led MInnesota. Scott Reedy scored a goal and Casey Mittelstadt added a pair of assists to help the Gophers to a 3-1 win. Saturday night it was the seniors who stepped up as Leon Bristedt and Mike Szmatula each tallied their first goals of the season to put Minnesota on top 2-1.
The Gophers are hoping one more senior can shake out of his funk and join the scoring parade as well. Captain Tyler Sheehy who finished eighth in the nation a year ago still has not scored a goal this season. He missed two games with injuries, and has three assists on the year but is just one of two Gopher forwards who have played in more than half the teams games this season to have not put a puck in the back of the net. If Minnesota can get him going, then maybe they won’t have to rely as much on Schierhorn.
Michigan State comes into the weekend with a 4-2 record. The Spartans have split home and home series with Bowling Green and Western Michigan, and swept a home series from Lake Superior State. So far this season they have shown a much greater ability to put the puck in the net. They are averaging 3.5 goals per game, which is good enough for 12th in the nation. Their top line of Taro Hirose, Patrick Khodorenko and Mitchell Lewandowski had scored early and often with nine goals and 25 points combined in six games. If the Gophers are having a bad forechecking night or don’t want to give any help to Schierhorn, it could end poorly.
One major advantage for the Gophers will be the goaltending spot. This is not the old Michigan State team where Jake Hildebrandt would stop 40 shots and only give up one goal. The Spartans are fairly weak in net. Senior Ed Minney played the first game for MSU and was yanked ten minutes into the game and has not seen any other action. Sophomore John Lethemon has been the guy the rest of the way for MSU and he is been merely adequate. He comes in with a 2.07 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. He has benefited greatly from the resurgent Spartan offense, but is coming in off of a shutout of the Lake Superior State Lakers last Saturday night.
The intangibles will be key this weekend once again. The Spartan power-play had found some success this season scoring on an approximate 1-4 clip. Meanwhile, the Gopher penalty kill has been downright awful this season with only a 73% kill rate. That is near the bottom of teams in the country. The power play has been even worse with just a 14.6% success rate. That’s unforgivable for a team with the kind of talent MInnesota has. Another story to watch will be how the Gophers treat Hirose this weekend. His collision with Ryan Lindgren last February broke Lindgren’s leg and ended his season. It will be interesting to see if any lingering resentment exists.
Overall as a team the Gophers are better than the Spartans. But, as we have seen on multiple occasions, the Gophers have a tendency to get off to very slow starts both against teams they should beat, and on Friday nights. A sweep this weekend would go a long way to helping to Gophers move up the standings in the Big Ten, and to keep them moving strongly forward into November.
This weekend’s games will end a run of eight straight games against nationally ranked opponents for Minnesota. Minnesota-Duluth, Union, Penn State, North Dakota, and Clarkson were all ranked in the Top 20 when Minnesota played them earlier this season. All but Union are currently ranked. It may be just a one week reprieve however as next week’s opponents the Michigan Wolverines are the top team receiving votes in this week’s USCHO.Com Poll. After Michigan the Gophers will host #3 Harvard, go to #10 Notre Dame, host #7 Wisconsin and go to #16 Ohio State to close out the pre-Holiday Break portion of their schedule. Woof.
How To Watch:
Michigan State Spartans (4-2) @ #5 Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-3)
Where: Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis, Minnesota
When: 7:00 PM Friday; 4:00 PM Saturday
TV: Fox Sports North
Radio: 1130 AM, 103.5 FM, Iheart Radio App