The Gopher Hockey team got the first big win they needed against Michigan State in a 5-4 nailbiter on Thursday night. Now they need to finish the sweep under much brighter lights. The Gophers and Spartans will play Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City as part of the Big Ten Super Saturday which also sees the Gopher Basketball squad taking on Ohio State in the morning.
Minnesota tried really hard to blow Thursday night’s game, but junior captain Tyler Sheehy saved the Gophers bacon and kept them out of the Big Ten cellar. Minnesota fell down a goal almost immediately as Gopher goalie Eric Schierhorn could not control a bouncing puck off of Munn Ice Arena’s notoriously lively boards and Spartan freshman phenom Mitchell Lewandowski put the puck behind him for a 1-0 Michigan State lead. It would be just the start of a fluke goal fest for both teams.
The Gophers would tie the game at one each when Jack Ramsey scored on a bouncing puck dump in from near the Gopher bench. He flipped the puck in from approximately 90 feet away and the Gophers got a lucky hop as the puck squeaked past Spartan goalie John Lethemon.
The second period would be even stranger. Minnesota took advantage of a power play early in the period when Steve Johnson whipped a wrist shot from the point past Lethemon to put the Gophers up 2-1. Twenty seconds later Clayton Phillips got a five minute major for checking from behind and the Spartans were on the power play. But, you wouldn’t know it if you watched the game. The Gophers scored not one but two shorthanded goals on the five minute major. The first by Tyler Sheehy game on a gorgeous 2 on 1 play with Brent Gates Jr to put Minnesota up 3-1. Two and a half minutes later Tommy Novak celebrated his first game back from injury by taking a gorgeous Sheehy flip pass in stride and breaking in on Lethemon to make it 4-1 Gophers.
But, as we have seen from the Gophers in the state of Michigan this year, a three goal lead is not big enough. After the Spartans picked up a major penalty, it was Taro Hirose’s turn to score shorthanded cutting the Gopher lead to 4-2. Six minutes later Hirose scored his second of the game to cut the Minnesota lead to 4-3. That’s how the second period ended.
Both teams came out punchless to start the third, but the Spartans would find a way to tie the game with 8 minutes to play when Butrus Gafari scored a horrible goal on Schierhorn. The puck bounce off of the side boards and went through his pads to knot up the game. It was an inexcusable goal and one that’s even worse when the reason Schierhorn got the start over Mat Robson was because Don Lucia said he wanted someone more familiar with the weird boards at Munn to play.
Luckily Sheehy saved Schierhorn when with just under three minutes to play he came into the zone and snapped a wrister past Lethemon to give Minnesota the lead they would not give up.
Sheehy’s three points on the night now give him 101 for his Gopher career and he is the 84th member of the Minnesota 100-point Club. You can watch the highlights of Thursday’s game below:
Both teams practiced in East Lansing on Friday before hopping a flight to New York. The Gophers will play on the rink where two recent alums have played as of late for the New York Rangers in Brady Skeji and Vinni Letteri. Minnesota will look to complete the sweep and make up ground on teams in the conference. Minnesota is now tied with Wisconsin with 17 points on the season. The Badgers have a tough series against #1 Notre Dame this weekend with Friday nights game being played in South Bend and Sunday’s game being played at the United Center in Chicago. Both the Gophers and the Badgers trail Michigan by one point with the Wolverines playing a series at Penn State this weekend.
With the Gophers hosting the Irish next weekend, Saturday night’s game is critical for Minnesota to get three points and remain viable in the race for one of the last home-ice spots in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. With Robson most likely in net for the Gophers, hopefully we see a better performance then he had last weekend. If not, Minnesota is going to be a really tough spot come the last month or so of the regular season.
How To Watch—Big Ten Super Saturday
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, New York
When: 7:00 PM Saturday
Radio: 1130 AM, 103.5 FM, IHeart Radio App