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Minnesota Hockey: Gophers Defeat Michigan State 5-1 to Advance to Big Ten Championship Game

The Gophers get a Big Ten title rematch with Michigan next Saturday

Eric Miller

The Minnesota Gophers escaped a slow start that Gopher head coach Bob Motzko tried really hard to avoid and bounced back after a poor opening 10 minutes to defeat the Michigan State Spartans 5-1. With the win the Gophers advance to host next Saturday’s Big Ten Championship game at 3M Arena at Mariucci against the Michigan Wolverines. It will be a rematch of last years game won 4-3 by Michigan.

Minnesota tried several different things during their bye week to try to avoid coming out flat after a week off, but it didn’t seem to work. After a good opening shift the Spartans took control of the game and did not let up. MSU drew an early penalty on an elbowing call on Logan Cooley and would strike first on the power play on a great passing play.

The Spartans continued to put the pressure on the Gophers for the first twelve minutes or so of the period, but finally the Gophers woke up. Minnesota would get their first power play of the game after Rhett Pitlick was tripped with 7:35 left in the period, and they would cash in on the power play. The Gophers passed the puck around the zone and Mike Koster fed Mathew Knies near the goal line to the left of MSU goalie Dylan St. Cyr. Knies fed a perfect pass to Jaxon Nelson who had a wide open net to put the puck into and he did not fail.

After the power play the Gophers finally started to look like the team that had outscored the Spartans 25-6 in four games this season. They would add one more goal in the period on a great shift from the fourth line. Connor Kurth had a great look in front that was stopped but the puck ended up back to the point where Ryan Chesley back from his injury wristed a shot towards the goal John Mittelstadt set a perfect screen and got his stick on the shot to deflect it past the Spartan goalie and into the net to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead after one period.

It was more of the same in the second period for the Gophers as they controlled play for a majority of the period. Minnesota would make it 3-1 just two minutes into the period when Cal Thomas took a shot from the point that St. Cyr blocked, but the rebound came right to Aaron Hugelin who had a wide open net to put the rebound into.

The Spartans would put some pressure on Justen Close late in the period including earning another power play, but the Gophers would hold tight and take their two goal lead into the break.

Minnesota started the third period in a steady manor, just trying not to make a mistake to let the Spartans get back into the game. Minnesota began to take control again after Cooley was hauled down earning the Gophers a power play. Minnesota didn’t convert on the power play, but on a long extended shift with the Cooley, Knies, Snuggerud line out on the ice Minnesota took advantage of some puck luck to make it 4-1, Logan Cooley ripped a hard shot that would go high and wide, but would then bounce off the glass behind the goal and bound off off St. Cyr’s back and into the goal. Sometimes you just need to be a bit lucky.

The Gophers just played a possession game to kill time for the rest of the period and the Spartans never really got a decent look at another goal to try and get back into the game. They would pull St. Cyr with four and a half minutes left in the game and it would take less than thirty seconds for the Gophers to make it 5-1 when Cooley took a rink long feed from Snuggerud and tapped the puck into the empty net.

Close would finish the game with 29 saves allowing just the lone goal. With the loss, Michigan State’s season likely comes to an end as they drop below spot #16 in the pairwise rankings and their chances of an at large NCAA bid disappeared.

Minnesota advances to host the Big Ten Championship game for the second consecutive season, and for the second year in a row will face the Michigan Wolverines. Michigan defeated Ohio State 7-3 in the first semifinal Saturday evening. Minnesota will look to flip the script from a year ago when the Wolverines shut down a load and raucous crowd at 3M Arena at Mariucci going up 4-1 before Mathew Knies scored a pair of goals in the final minute to cut the final score to 4-3. That game will go down as the first game that Wolverines goalie Erik Portillo kicked off the student section end goal repeatedly to earn the absolute ire of the Gopher fans.

Faceoff next Saturday will be at 7 PM and the game will air on Big Ten Network. Tickets are available from the U of M Ticket Office for $30 at the link HERE.