The Minnesota Gophers men’s hockey team will get back to work after a week off by taking on the Michigan State Spartans in a Big Ten Semifinal at 3M Arena at Mariucci Saturday night. The winner will advance to play either Ohio State or Michigan who face off in an earlier semifinal Saturday evening. Minnesota has owned the Spartans this season going 4-0 and outscoring MSU 25-6. The Gophers have won their last 13 games over Michigan State including a Big Ten quarterfinal game in the 2021 tournament.
Minnesota by virtue of winning the Big Ten regular season title had a bye last weekend and did not play a Big Ten First round series. The 5th seeded Spartans needed three games but “upset” 4th seeded Notre Dame on their home ice. The Spartans dropped the opening game of the series 1-0, but battled back with a pair of 4-2 wins Saturday and Sunday to advance out of the first round of the Big Ten Tournament for the first time in program history. Michigan State is also playing for their NCAA Tournament lives as the Spartans currently sit 16th in the Pairwise and would be potentially the first team out if the field was selected today. A win over the Gophers could be enough to jump them high enough to squeak into the field of 16.
The Gophers will hopefully come out sharp after taking a week off. Bob Motzko took his team down to Rochester for an intrasquad scrimmage last weekend to keep his team in game-mode and avoid any potential bye week let down. After Minnesota’s regular season bye week in February the Gophers came out slow and out of sorts for a series in Madison resulting in a split with last place Wisconsin. There is no room for that this time of season where a loss gives them another week break before the NCAA Tournament kicks off. Minnesota would much rather play one more home game next weekend before concentrating on the NCAAs.
One major question for the Gophers is who will be available on the blue line for Minnesota. Ryan Chesley and Jackson LaCombe missed the final two series and final series of the regular season with injuries. According to Motzko in his teams media appearance this week Chesley may be back for Saturday’s game and LaCombe is “day-to-day”. One other issue that has popped up this week has been that Brock Faber has not practiced all week and has been isolated from the team due to “illness”. Faber is questionable for Saturday’s game as well. It would be nice to have at least one of LaCombe or Faber on the ice Saturday night, but the Gophers may just need to deal without their two anchors.
That will put more pressure on Minnesota’s high powered forwards and on goalie Justen Close. The usual subjects for the Gophers have thrived against Sparty this season. Logan Cooley led Minnesota with 10 points in the four meetings this season with three goals and seven assists, recording multiple points in all four matchups. Linemates Matthew Knies and Jimmy Snuggerud each scored four times versus MSU and Bryce Brodzinski added three goals this season. Meanwhile Close went 4-0 allowing just 1.5 goals per game earning a .949 save percentage and shutting out the Spartans twice this season.
Even potentially shorthanded the Gophers should have the horses to get past Michigan State if they can play their game. The first postseason game for Cooley and Snuggerud could bring some gitters, but Minnesota has enough of a veteran presence to get them through that and back to their usual selves on the ice.
Faceoff between the Gophers and Spartans is set for 8PM and will air live on Big Ten Network.
HOW TO WATCH: BIG TEN HOCKEY SEMIFINAL
#5 Michigan State Spartans @ #1 Minnesota Golden Gophers
Where: 3M Arena at Mariucci, Minneapolis, Minnesota
When: 8 PM Saturday
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 1130 AM/ 103.5 FM/ I Heart Radio App