Neil's Notebook: Minney and Seniors Deliver 3-0 Victory at Michigan
Notes, quotes and analysis from Neil Koepke on Friday's win at Michigan.
By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
ANN ARBOR -- Finally, a victory. And what a victory.
Goaltender Ed Minney, playing in his first game against Michigan at Yost Arena, not only played a huge role in Michigan State halting its nine-game winning streak, he also shut out the Wolverines.
The sharp and steady Minney had his game at a high level with a 24-save performance, and got plenty of help from his teammates as the Spartans scored one goal in each period and emerged with a well-earned 3-0 Big Ten victory on Friday night in front of 5,800 fans at an unusually quiet Yost Arena.
The shutout was Minney's first in 17 career starts.
"It was a good 60-minute game for everybody. It gives us a lot of confidence,'' he said. "That's probably the best game our defense has played since North Dakota. There weren't a lot of grade A chances, mostly shots from the outside.
"And when there were some grade A shots, which happens in every game, I was there, we cleared pucks and it happened to work out. It's pretty exciting because of the atmosphere here at Yost. It's a tough place to play, with a lot of people yelling at me the whole game.''
The Spartans' last win was on Nov. 25, a 4-3 victory at North Dakota, followed by a 2-2 tie the next night.
"It's been really tough. It started as just a couple of games and then kept going and going and guys were getting frustrated. So to come in here and end it at a place like Michigan, that's awesome for us,'' Minney, a 6-foot-5, 197-pound junior from Wind Gap, Pa., said of the long losing streak.
MSU (5-15-1, 1-6 Big Ten) on Friday got strong efforts from all sorts of players, including a few who normally don't find their way into the spotlight.
Knudson, playing in his first game this season and first in over a year (Jan. 8, 2016), scored the Spartans' second goal at 13:25 of the second period from the edge of the crease. It was Knudson's first goal and point of his career. He spent the last three seasons as mostly a reserve defenseman, playing in 34 games, before being moved to forward this season.
Sanford, playing left wing on a line with Wood at center and Knudson at right wing, set up two goals with perfect passes from behind the net to Knudson and Wood.
Wood boosted MSU's lead to 3-0 at 9:25 of the third period when got open in front of the net and took a pass from Sanford. He fired the puck off the right post and then it went off sprawling U-M goalie Jack LaFontaine's elevated left skate or pad and caromed into the net for his second goal of the season and third of his career.
Saliba teamed with fellow freshman Taro Hirose and senior Thomas Ebbing to score a power-play goal just 3:03 into the game to give his team an early 1-0 lead. It was Saliba's second goal of the season.
"Yes, unlikely heroes. We'll take any heroes,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said. "We just needed a win. I didn't care who it was against. We needed a confidence boost and we needed to continue to improve and find some consistency, and we did that tonight.
"From start to finish in all three zones, on both sides of the puck and on special teams, tonight was as consistent as we've been all season.
"I thought it started in goal and Minney came up big when he needed to come up big, especially on that power play (in the second period). He was a good penalty killer for us and it's nice for him to get his first shutout.''
LaFontaine made 26 saves for the Wolverines (8-12-1, 1-6-0-0), who have lost three straight and are 2-7 in their last nine games.
Knudson, who is roommates with Minney, practiced all week with Wood and Sanford on the fourth line. He got the word that he was in the lineup on Friday morning.
"I was pretty optimistic thinking that I would be in the lineup and I was really excited when it was official,'' said Knudson, a 6-2, 206-pounder from North Barrington, Ill. "It's been an undesirable role the last few years so it felt really good to get out there and contribute and just do the little things right.''
Knudson started the play that led to his goal.
"I got the puck in our zone, went up the ice and kind of dished it off to Sanford and he went wide and made a really good play to me at the net, and I tipped it and got my own rebound,'' Knudson said.
"It was surreal, especially against Michigan and at Yost. It's such a fun place to play. And with the rivalry and it being my senior year, it was really special.''
Knudson actually was checked and fell to the ice after passing off the Sanford but got back up quickly and found and open spot in front of the net. After directing the puck on goal, he reached out and backhanded it past LaFontaine. It definitely was one of MSU's most memorable goals of the season.
Knudson, 23, who played in 13 games as a freshman, four as a sophomore and 17 last season, said he got a lot of encouragement and advice from teammates and former teammates once word got out that he was in the lineup.
"As soon as I told him, Ed (Minney) was so excited. He started telling me things, and I got texts from alumni like Darny (Brent Darnell) and Hildy (Jake Hildebrand). They were giving me advice, saying `go to the net,''' he said.
"The guys were joking around (on the bus) on the way here, saying `Oh man, if you score tonight we're going to go nuts'. That was from Woody (Connor Wood).''
When Knudson scored to give MSU a much-needed two-goal cushion, just about everyone in the building knew who put the puck in the net except his roommate.
"In the locker room after the second period, everyone was going, `Oh yeah, nice going Nuddy (Knudson).' I'm like `you scored?' Everyone was excited and I'm really happy for him,'' Minney said.
How did Knudson work his way into the lineup?
"That kid has been working his heart out since he's been here and just hasn't been able to crack the lineup. I just thought it was the right time,'' Anastos said. "He was practicing there since Tuesday.
"I wrestled with it (Thursday) night. I thought `is this the best way to kind of ease him into it?' Going from practice to a game, the tempo is a lot different.''
Plus, making one's season debut in an atmosphere at a place like Yost Arena and in an emotional, intense rivalry game are additional challenges.
"I wasn't sure what I was going to do. Then, the first thing I thought of when I woke up this morning was that we're going to do it,'' Anastos said. "So, we posted the lineup and we're sure glad we did because he did great job.'
Sanford, Wood and Knudson combined for six shots on goal, with each player having two.
"That line had a really good night and added a lot of depth and energy,'' Anastos said. "Nudders' goal was a real inspiration to his teammates. Sanford can play with speed and he made good decisions with the puck and gave us a physical presence.''
Anastos asked Knudson to move from defense to forward because of five freshmen defenseman coming in, which would give MSU nine players battling for six blue line spots in the lineup. Knudson agreed and became one of 15 forwards.
"I like being a competitor, competing every day,'' he said. "It's not ideal and I don't know how many kids would through it for four years. But I love the guys. If it wasn't for our guys, I don't know if I'd do it. It has a lot to do with my teammates.''
Michigan State started the game with good energy and was aggressive in the offensive zone, creating turnovers and scoring chances.
A slashing penalty to U-M's Jake Slaker at 1:38 led to Saliba's power-play goal and a boost of confidence for the Spartans. With the power play winding down, Saliba, Ebbing and Hirose combined to give MSU a 1-0 lead. Saliba started the play by sending a pass from behind the net to Hirose at the point in the middle of the ice.
"I got below the goal line and was able to see Taro up top. He did a good job to get it through and it came of the boards and Ebbing got it to the net. I just kind of found it in front,'' said Saliba, who saw the puck bouncing in the crease and fired it into the wide-open net.
"Obviously, nine in a row is tough. It's been a long two months not winning. The biggest thing is sticking together. So, tonight at Yost, the first time for all the freshmen, in a great atmosphere, it was nice to get the shutout.''
Michigan State's penalty killing, which has struggled most of the season, was exceptionally sharp as it skated off four Michigan power plays.
One key segment for MSU came early in the second period and Sanford in the penalty box for tripping and the Spartans up 1-0. The Wolverines mounted their most dangerous attack of the game, with good puck movement and good set-ups, but Minney was sharp. He made five saves, the Spartan penalty killers were active in front of the net and Michigan shooters misfired on a few shots.
It was an exciting two minutes and MSU got a big lift.
"Minney was definitely our best player. He made some huge saves, especially on the penalty kill,'' Saliba said.
The Spartans went 1-for-3 with a man advantage, and have now scored one power-play goal in seven of their last eight games.
Michigan State did an excellent job of possessing the puck and keeping Michigan bottled up in its own zone. Rarely did the Wolverines have odd-man rushes or point-blank scoring chances.
"We wanted to play as tenaciously as we could. We wanted to play down low in the offensive zone, protect pucks and get to the net,'' Anastos said. "Overall, I think we did a good job.''
THE REMATCH SATURDAY: The Spartans will be seeking a series sweep and the Wolverines' aim is a split when the teams meet at 7 p.m. Saturday at Munn Arena.
It'll also be a battle to stay out of last place in the Big Ten with both teams now at 1-5 in conference play and tied for fifth.
"The next challenge is to respond again Saturday night. I told our team after the game that it's going to take a better effort than we had tonight because (Michigan) will certainly respond,'' Anastos said. "And we're home and our fans deserve to see a great effort.
"We're going to enjoy this (win) for a little bit and then focus on having another good effort for three periods on Saturday.''
Said Saliba: "We have to turn the page quick. It's just one win. We have home ice and we need the same effort.''
THE LAST TIME: Michigan State's last shutout against Michigan was by Jake Hildebrand in a 3-0 win in the third-place game of the Great Lakes Invitational at Comerica Park on Dec. 28, 2013.
The Spartans' last shutout at Yost Arena was in a 1-0 win on Jan. 25, 2008, by Jeff Lerg. MSU's last overall shutout was delivered by Hildebrand, 5-0, against Minnesota last season, on March 5, 2016.
Hildebrand also was part of Michigan State's last victory at Yost Arena, a 2-1 decision on March 14, 2015, the final night of the regular season.
BEST DEFENSIVE EFFORT: Before Friday, Michigan State's lowest goals-against effort was two goals -- in a 2-1 loss to Denver, a 3-2 win in overtime against Michigan Tech and a 2-2 tie at North Dakota.
The last time the Spartans faced Michigan, the Wolverines scored five goals in a 5-4 win in overtime in the GLI third-place game. In fact, MSU had allowed five goals in each of its last five games, and in the two games before that stretch, it gave up four vs. Western Michigan in a 4-1 loss and six against Northeastern in a 6-2 defeat.
BALANCED SHOOTING: Every skater in the Michigan State lineup, with the exception of one, had at least one shot on goal on Friday night. Surprisingly, the six Spartan defensemen combined for 12 of the 29 shots on goal, led by Zach Osburn's and Mitch Eliot's team-high of three. Defensemen Jerad Rosburg and Butrus Ghafari each had two, while Carson Gatt and Rhett Holland had one apiece.
In addition to Knudson, Sanford and Wood each having two shots, Ebbing and Saliba also had two shots on goal, and Mason Appleton, Joe Cox, Hirose, Villiam Haag and Logan Lambdin each had one. Patrick Khodorenko was the only Spartan skater to not have a shot on goal.
Meanwhile, senior forward Alex Kile led Michigan with seven shots on Minney while junior defenseman Sam Piazza had four.
IN THE BIG TEN: No. 1 Penn State and No. 11 Ohio State played to a 3-3 tie in University Park, Pa., with the Buckeyes winning the shootout 2-1 in seven rounds and earning the extra point in the Big Ten standings. OSU (11-4-6 overall, 2-2-1-1 Big Ten) earns two points while the Nittany Lions (16-2-2, 5-1-1-0) get one point. Penn State never trailed, leading 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 before the Buckeyes tied the game on a power-play goal with 6:01 left in the third period. The Nittany Lions held their usual wide edge in shots, this time 59-27.
No. 7 Minnesota (14-5-2, 6-1-0-0) won its seventh game in a row with a 4-3 victory in overtime at Wisconsin. Justin Kloos scored the winner at 1:43 of the extra period. The Gophers took a 2-0 lead in the opening period, only to see the Badgers (10-8-1, 3-2-0-0) tie it with two goals in the second. Minnesota went up 3-2 on Tyler Sheehy's goal at 19:21 of the middle period, but Wisconsin tied it on Trent Frederic's goal at 9:21 of the third period.
With the Gophers' win and Nittany Lions' tie and shootout loss, Minnesota takes over first place in the Big Ten with 18 points, two ahead of PSU's 16. Wisconsin remains in third place with nine points, with Ohio State one point back at eight.
Minnesota and Wisconsin and Penn State and Ohio State meet in series finales on Saturday.