After losing 4-2 to No. 11 Minnesota, Michigan State coach Tom Anastos summed up the result in one sentence: “It’s hard to shoot when you don’t have the puck.”
The Golden Gophers outshot the Spartans 44-14, a figure made perhaps a bit more lopsided by their five scoreless power plays, and Anastos had a lot to say about that in a short self-described rant following the game.
“Score aside, I know that we can compete better than we competed tonight,” said Anastos. “I know we’re more tenacious than that. I know that we can be stronger one-on-one and win more battles. I know we can get to the net better than we did tonight. I’ll give them credit, but I know we can be better than we were tonight.”
What Anastos perceived as a lopsided effort was a matter of design for the Gophers, who spent the week recovering from an 8-3 home loss to Ohio State. In practice, Minnesota emphasized communication and blocking shots, among other points of emphasis. The strategy worked.
“You look at the shots and I think we were down five to two at the 10-minute mark,” said coach Don Lucia, “and then from there on we didn’t give them much. I thought the D got back to pucks to get them out of our zone for the most part. We had a good mentality tonight. I thought in the offensive zone, we retrieved a lot of pucks tonight. Those loose pucks, we were able to get to them and possess them. If you have the puck in the other end, you aren’t going to give up many goals.”
The Spartans jumped out to an early lead when JT Stenglein hit his first of the season at 3:30 in the first, but Justin Kloos answered for Minnesota at 10:54. According to both coaches, it was that point in the game that turned things the Gophers’ way.
“I liked that first eight or 10 minutes of the game,” said Anastos, “but for whatever reason … they took the momentum of that goal and then some power-play opportunities even though they didn’t score.”
“I thought Kloos’s goal really got us going,” said Lucia. “Then we started to take things over and did a good job of playing fast, getting pucks out of the goal line and trying to get some end-zone offense going.”
The Gophers led 3-2 at the end of the second on goals by Tyler Sheehy and Vinni Lettieri. Sheehy’s goal at 12:26 was a rocket that hit the back of the net and bounced out so fast that the play was reviewed. Sheehy has scored six goals in his last four games and has points in his last seven straight.
Lettieri’s goal was came directly from an unfortunate play by Michigan State goaltender Ed Minney. Minney went to clear the puck from behind the net and passed directly to Lettieri, who from the right post popped the puck into an essentially empty net at 14:19.
Taro Hirose scored for the Spartans at 16:57 on a nice effort to get past two Minnesota defenseman, but in spite of the score, the Spartans never really came close in the final two stanzas. Michigan State had three shots on goal in each of the second and third periods.
Sophomore Darian Romanko scored his first career goal when he flipped the puck into the air and managed to beat a diving Jared Rosburgh, who was trying to defend the empty Michigan State net at 18:59.
Nearly lost in the game was the performance of Minney. The play that led to Lettieri’s goal aside, the sophomore was outstanding in Michigan State’s net, making 40 saves on the night.
“We couldn’t get that next one even though we had plenty of good opportunities tonight,” said Lucia. “Any time we get 44 shots and only score three, their goaltender played really well.”
Said Anastos, “The score was close, but I think the score was close because of Ed Minney. He had an excellent game. Between the saves he made, a few goal posts, our penalty kill was a bright spot against a very good power play, but other than that I’m really unhappy with our grit and tenacity tonight.”
Minnesota (7-5-2, 2-1-0 B1G) and Michigan State (4-6-1, 0-1-0 B1G) meet again Saturday in Munn Ice Arena at 8:05 p.m.
Big Ten roundup
Wisconsin 7, Michigan 4
Wisconsin scored five goals in the second period to overtake Michigan en route to a 7-3 win. Will Johnson and Luke Kunin each scored two for the Badgers as Wisconsin outshot Michigan 41-21. Special teams factored into all four of Michigan’s goals and the Badgers scored two with the man advantage. The Wolverines led 2-1 after the first on power-play goals, but Wisconsin took its first lead with two goals within the first four minutes of the second. After Michigan tied the score, 3-3, at 8:09 in the second, the Badgers scored three goals in the second half of the second to take a 6-3 lead after two. Jack Barry made 17 saves for Wisconsin. Hayden Lavigne played the first two periods for Michigan and earned the loss. Zach Nagelvoort had 13 saves in relief.