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Minnesota Hockey: Gophers erase two deficits en route to 6-3 win, sweep over Spartans

A five minute major and game misconduct changed the game’s footprint

Eric Miller

MINNEAPOLIS — If anyone forgot from earlier this season, the Michigan St. Spartans and Minnesota Gophers made sure to reinforce it: misconducts completely change a game’s flight path like the major and game misconduct tonight. That was true against North Dakota, and it was indeed true once again in Minnesota’s 6-3 come from behind win inside a sold out 3M Arena At Mariucci in Saturday night’s tilt on Hockey Day Minnesota. It is Minnesota’s 13th straight win against the Spartans.

With the Gophers up 3-2, Michigan State’s Daniel Russell was assessed a five minute major and game misconduct for a hit to the head on Gophers defenseman Mike Koster at the 4:07 mark of the second period. Koster didn’t return to the game, and there was no update after the game. While the Maroon and Gold didn’t score on the ensuing five minute power play, they went on to score three more goals in the third period to pad their lead to 6-2. There’s no doubt that whole sequence made an impact on the final score as momentum continued in Minnesota’s favor after the Spartans’ were forced to defend for five minutes.

The third period scoring surge started only two minutes after the major penalty ended when Ryan Chesley fired the puck past Dylan St. Cyr top shelf glove side from the right circle after Rhett Pitlick fed him a backhanded pass from along the boards. Then Matthew Knies scored five hole on St. Cyr from the left circle to make it 5-2 after a great play by Jimmy Snuggerud from behind the net.

Knies’ 17th goal of the season tied Ben Meyers’ goal output from last season, and the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect is now just two goals shy of tying Sampo Ranta’s 19 goals in 2020-21.

Snuggerud’s one-timer from the slot with 6:51 left in the game extended the lead to 6-2 as if the top line hadn’t done enough damage in the series. As Motzko puts it, his release is “ridiculous.”

Snuggerud’s goal was no question the knock out punch. “They made plays when we needed it,” Motzko said of the top line. ... “They looked awful good tonight.” The Spartans did get one back though with a late goal from Cole Krygier.

It was an unexpected turn of events to say the least.

The Gophers and Spartans may have been scoreless after the first period, but Michigan St. dominated the first 20 minutes — outshooting Minnesota 12-4 with a 22-10 edge in shot attempts. The visitors hit the post, too.

“We were turning pucks over and not getting pucks deep and getting outshot badly,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said. “It could have got away from us.”

The Spartans held the Gophers to just two shots in the first 18 minutes of the contest. It was exactly the “battle” Gophers captain Brock Faber envisioned, and it showed with their slow start.

“We came out with that less intensity, and we kind of thought it would be too easy, and obviously you can’t have that in these types of games,” Snuggerud said. “We came back from it, and we got the win. But we can’t start a game like that.”

The Spartans finally broke through at the 17:25 mark of the middle frame on the power play. Minnesota responded with a goal from Snuggerud 65 seconds later at even strength to tie the game. The freshman winger shot the puck over St. Cyr’s glove hand and top shelf right after an offensive zone faceoff win from Cooley.

But it only took 88 seconds for the Spartans to respond and regain the lead. The Gophers didn’t quit, though. After all, the Gophers responded quite nicely in the second period by outshooting Michigan St. 16-6 with a 28-16 edge in shot attempts.

For a second weekend in a row, Knies was robbed of a goal. It wasn’t a quick whistle this time, instead, it was a remarkable glove save by St. Cyr, who stretched all the way across to stop Knies’ one-timer off the rebound.

Video review determined his glove didn’t fully cross the goal line, and Motzko said he was told it was three quarters of the way over the line. It would have been goal No. 18 for Knies.

But the Gophers responded yet again when Cooley beat his defender to net, wrapped it around St. Cyr’s far pad and Garrett Pinoniemi poked the puck across the goal line as the net was dislodged for his second goal in two games after returning to the lineup. Michigan State challenged for goalie interference and was unsuccessful — losing their timeout in the process.

“I just try to focus on the little things, winning battles (and) things coach Motzko said,” Pinoniemi said on his motivation to return to the lineup. “I just try to keep it simple, and it ended up working out.”

Motzko said the team didn’t play their A game, but they improved as the game went on against the Spartans, who played “bloody hard.”

Roughly two minutes later, Bryce Brodzinski scored on the breakaway for Minnesota’s first lead of the game, which was 25 seconds before the major called on Russell. It was the result of a dominant second period from the Gophers — enough for the Maroon and Gold to complete the comeback and sweep the season series.

“I think it was unbelievable,” Snuggerud said of the team’s response. “Those are the types of things we need here. It’s been getting better and better all season, so it was really fun and a good response.”

The Gophers have the week off and will resume play against Wisconsin on the road on Feb. 10-11.

“We’re going to use it to our advantage,” Motzko said. “We got some work to do; we got some time off.”