MINNEAPOLIS — The No. 2-ranked Minnesota Gophers men’s hockey team’s 8-0 shutout win over Michigan State inside 3M Arena At Mariucci on Friday night is a perfect example of the saying that sometimes the best defense is a good offense. While the Gophers were sound defensively and kept the Spartans to the perimeter for much of the game, it was Minnesota’s offense that took the wheel. In fact, the Maroon and Gold had eight different goal scorers in their second straight victory in shutout fashion.
“I think it’s huge for us because it’s all about feeling good,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said about the team receiving balanced scoring in the game. … “It’s invaluable that you start having that feel as we head toward playoffs.”
Entering Friday night’s series opener, the Gophers had been in overtime in four of their past five games, so Motzko said he had a “little less stress,” in the win that improved their home ice record to 12-1-2 this season. Whenever Justen Close was called upon to make a save: he did — stopping all 21 shots for his fifth shutout of the season. Everyone from the top to the bottom of the lineup got involved offensively, and the opening shift of the game was a prelude to one of the Gophers’ most lethal offensive performances of the season.
After all, it only took nine seconds for the Gophers to get on the board. Gophers captain Brock Faber found Logan Cooley in the neutral zone and the freshman star started their offensive clinic when he capitalized on a Spartans defensive breakdown off the draw.
“No drawing board for that one,” Faber said of the goal right off the opening faceoff.
After cleanly entering the offensive zone, Cooley, who recorded three points, skated in between two defenders and chose the five hole as his goal of choice on Spartans’ goaltender Dylan St. Cyr, which gave the Gophers an early 1-0 lead. Minnesota controlled most of the first period, allowing just nine shot attempts in the opening frame and containing Michigan State’s offensive attack mostly to the perimeter and low danger areas.
“It’s obviously nice to get off to an early lead, which is something that I feel like when we do, that just shows that we’re on it; we’re playing well,” Faber said. “That was big for us, momentum, and we obviously just kept it rolling from there.”
Then with three minutes and 13 seconds left in the period, Ryan Johnson and Faber earned their second assists of the night on Jimmy Snuggerud’s snipe from the slot that beat St. Cyr high blocker. Faber’s at 19 points on the season after his two-point night where he displayed his effective 200-foot game.
“I’m so happy he came back because there was another level for him to hit, and he’s finding it, you just see more confidence everyday in practice, in games,” Motzko said of Faber who was the No. 1 star in the game. “I think it’s valuable. If there was a way to have a better Brock Faber, we’re seeing it. … We knew it was possible, just great to see it happening.”
Snuggy snipes >>> pic.twitter.com/MUGvc9exkp— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) January 28, 2023
Snuggerud’s 14 goals is second on the team behind Matthew Knies with 16, and he ended up being among the three players who notched three points the win. “That’s Snuggerud’s shot,” Motzko said of the goal. “We all shake our heads when he takes that.”
The Spartans barely escaped the first period down two as Connor Kurth hit the pipe and Knies and Jackson LaCombe almost connected for a goal, but the senior defender lost the handle of the puck. The Spartans managed to keep the Gophers off the scoresheet in the first seven minutes of the middle frame, too. But the Maroon and Gold took a 3-0 lead when Kurth found the loose puck in the slot from Mike Koster’s shot from the point with traffic in front and buried it for his fifth goal of the season. It was Kurth’s best game this season, according to Faber.
Then the top line got working and Cooley found Knies and Snuggerud, who pulled off a give-and-go for Minnesota’s fourth goal of the game.
The top line is COOKING pic.twitter.com/0JgZKwscpS— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) January 28, 2023
“I thought our forecheck was really good tonight,” Faber said. “I thought we were making them turn pucks over. ... We got the puck to the hash marks and made plays from there, which was big and that’s kind of always the goal. Getting pucks deep and letting our skill come out. It starts with our work ethic, and I think that’s what allowed us to make those plays.”
The goal came seconds after Michigan State hit the post. Knies is up to 16 goals and 28 points on the season (1.04 PPG), and he’s one goal short of tying Ben Meyers’ 17 goals during the 2021-22 campaign.
After Rhett Pitlick’s shot from in front got behind St. Cyr, it was cleared out of the crease by a Spartan defender — but it didn’t matter because the puck went right to Koster, whose one-timer from the top of the left circle got through at the 2:34 mark of the second period for a 5-0 lead that the Gophers took into the third period. Pierce Charleson came in for St. Cyr after the fifth goal, and all five goals scored on St. Cyr came during 5-on-5 play.
Minnesota added insult to injury by scoring three more goals in the final frame. At the blueline, LaCombe one-timed Snuggerud’s pass, which beat Charleson high-blocker on the power play.
We'll say it again..— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) January 28, 2023
COMBER FOR HOBEY pic.twitter.com/dxGW8D7UiK
LaCombe extended his point streak to three games (3-3-6) and has 26 points on the year now. He’s on the Hobey Baker Award ballot with Faber and Knies. After Pitlick made a perfect pass to the tape of Aaron Huglen, the sophomore center scored from deep at the top of the left circle on a partial breakaway at the 15:26 mark of the third period for a 7-0 lead.
The cherry on top was freshman Garrett Pinoniemi’s power play goal with about three minutes left in the game. Koster’s shot from the point deflected off the freshman who scored his first collegiate goal after being a healthy scratch in the Michigan series.
“He’s such a special player,” Koster, who notched three points in the contest, said of Pinoniemi. … “It was just really fun to see him get his first. He was pumped about it, but he was all humble.”
The Gophers head into Saturday night’s contest 3-0 against Michigan State this season after earning the sweep on the road with 5-0 and 6-3 wins, respectively, back on Dec. 2-3. Minnesota looks to extend their winning streak against the Spartans to 13 games on Saturday night.
“We got better as the game went, obviously, we got the lead, and we had some momentum,” Motzko said. “But they had some pretty good looks in the first period. It wasn’t a perfect game for us. The right guys got the puck in the right moments.”