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Neil’s Notebook: Spartans Drop Opening Series at No. 5 Minnesota

Nov. 5, 2017

By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer

MINNEAPOLIS – For most teams, in order to beat a highly skilled group team like Minnesota on the road, they almost always need to bring their “A” games to the Olympic-size rink now known as 3M Arena at Mariucci.

Either that or hope the Gophers play their “C” game.

Unfortunately for Michigan State, none of that happened here Saturday afternoon.

The Spartans got off to a slow start, found themselves down 2-0 just 10 minutes into the first period, and with Minnesota playing at a high level, it added up to 4-0 loss for MSU and a Big Ten series sweep for the No. 5 Gophers.

In Friday’s 3-1 victory, Minnesota scored 3 minutes and 22 seconds after the opening faceoff. On Saturday, the Gophers did even better, scoring on a similar play – by Tyler Sheehy - just 51 seconds into the game.

At 10:15, freshman Casey Mittelstadt got free in the slot, received a perfect pass and beat MSU goalie John Lethemon with a quick shot to make it 2-0.

The Spartans, who had only four shots on goal in the first period, got better in the second period (seven shots on goal), and had their best scoring opportunities in the third (10 shots). But they couldn’t solve Gophers goalie Eric Schierhorn, who made 21 saves.

“The first period, we didn’t like. We only gave up seven shots so it wasn’t a complete catastrophe, but I didn’t think our energy was there, for whatever reason,’’ MSU coach Danton Cole said. “We didn’t win a lot of battles, we had more turnovers, we weren’t sharp with the puck and our feet weren’t moving. So that’s a tough way to start. I thought we got what we deserved there.’’ Even though the Gophers (7-3 overall, 3-1 Big Ten), who have won four straight and seven of their last eight games, seemed to be in control early in the second period, the Spartans were only down 2-0 nearly halfway through the game and looking for the next goal to get back in contention

 

 

But freshman defenseman Tyler Nanne’s shot from the right point found a way into the net at 9:22, extending the Gophers lead to 3-0.

MSU tested Schierhorn in the third period, and had five shots on goal during an early power play, but failed to convert several quality chances.

The Gophers closed out the scoring on Leon Bristedt’s goal from the right circle with 1:32 left in the game.

“Our second period was better, and in the third the guys had some energy, so I talked to the guys afterward and said that one thing to look at was it wasn’t a legs issue (to start), because in the third period, that was the best we played,’’ Cole said. “We got back to taking away time and space and not thinking so much.

“We had too much separation and too much standing around in the first period. That’s what we learned and hopefully we’ll get better from it.

“We don’t have that margin of error. We can’t play a first period like that where we’re standing around and putting too much on our goalies, and then they have to stand on their heads. We just have to be ready right from the get-go and press the issue.’’

Cody Milan, Brennan Sanford, Patrick Khodorenko, Mitchell Lewandowski, Taro Hirose, Gino Esteves and Logan Lambdin all had good scoring chances in the third period. But just like on Friday, Schierhorn was solid and good puck luck was nonexistent for the Spartans.

“If we would have played 60 minutes like (the third period), I don’t know how we would have come out of it but it would have been a lot better (final) outcome and we would have had a chance,’’ Cole said.

Defenseman Jerad Rosburg said that if there were any positives about the series it was the experience of playing a top-ranked team and understanding what it takes to win against those teams.

“We got off to a slow start against a good team and you can’t spot them goals. We were battling uphill from the start,’’ he said. “They’ve won the Big Ten (regular season title) four years in a row so to start the Big Ten season on the road against one of the best in the conference is a good benchmark. Now we have a good baseline of how we need to be to win against teams like this.

“You have to bring your “A” game against a team like Minnesota, and if you give up anything, they’ll take it. We have to clean up on the mistakes and play more of our game.’’

MINNEY BACK IN NET: After Minnesota scored its third goal midway through the second period, MSU coach Danton Cole made a goaltending change, replacing starter John Lethemon (9 saves) with Ed Minney. It wasn’t because Lethemon was playing poorly but more of a move to spark the team and give Minney same playing time.

Minney started the season opener at Bowling Green but was replaced by Lethemon halfway through the first period after the Falcons scored three goals in 1 minute and 41 seconds. And Lethemon has played every minute in every game since.

Minney played well Saturday, making 14 saves and allowing only a late third-period goal.

“Ed hasn’t played in a long time so when it got to be 3-0, I looked down at (assistant coach) Joe (Exter) and we figured this was a good time to get him back in,’’ Cole said. “If he comes in and sparks us, then it’s good for him and the team. I grabbed John and said ‘it’s not on you. . . we’re making a change and maybe it sparks the team.’

“I thought Ed came in and looked sharp, he looked big and confident. That’s a tribute to him that he stayed on top of it the last few weeks and was ready to go.’’

GOPHER IMPRESSIONS: When coach Danton Cole looked at video of Minnesota’s games this season, he was impressed with the Gophers as a deep, high talent team. On Friday and Saturday, he got to see them in person and found out the video didn’t lie.

“They have a lot of good guys up front, they’re good on the rush and in transition if you make a mistake, which we saw,’’ he said. “I thought their d-men do a nice job. They skate well, defend well and get the puck up to their forwards.

“Shierhorn had a good weekend. He stopped a lot of pucks. When we had the good chances, he made the saves. They’re a good, solid, deep hockey team.

“That’s the bar. So when the next time we see them, hopefully, we’ve grown and we’ll give them a better battle. I thought we gave them a good one but not a great one this weekend. That’s where we’ve got to get to.’’

LUCIA’S TAKE ON MSU: “They may not have shown it from an offensive standpoint this weekend, but I think they have more guys that will be able to put the puck in the net,’’ Minnesota coach Don Lucia said of the Spartans. “They’re a younger team and if you look at it, they’re 4-0 at home and 0-4 on the road. That’s a sign of a young team. You’re just play more comfortable at home.

“Their goaltender is playing well for them, and I think they’re play more of a team game right now. You can see the growth in their freshmen from last year, like (Patrick) Khodorenko, (Taro) Hirose and (Sam) Saliba. We played Michigan State at the end of last year and those guys were a lot better than when we saw them in December.

“That evolution has continued, especially with Khodorenko. He was a young freshman last season and now you can see that growth in him.’’

TILL WE MEET AGAIN: The next time the Spartans and Gophers get together will be in East Lansing on Thursday, Jan. 18 when the teams collide for one game at Munn Arena. Then it’s on to New York City where MSU and Minnesota will complete the series on Jan. 20 at Madison Square Garden as part of a Big Ten basketball-hockey doubleheader.

The Spartans and Gophers play at 8 p.m., after the Gophers basketball team faces Ohio State at 1 p.m.

UP NEXT FOR MSU: The Spartans will try to get back on the winning track next weekend with a home series against No. 7 Wisconsin. The teams meet at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Munn Arena.

MSU is then home for its third straight game when it faces Ferris State at 7 p.m. on Nov. 17. The Spartans and Bulldogs play in Big Rapids at 7 p.m. on Nov. 18.

IN THE BIG TEN: No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 4 North Dakota played to a 2-2 tie on Saturday night in front of an announced crowd of 12,408 at the Kohl Center in Madison. The Fighting Hawks won the series opener, 3-2, on Friday night.

On Saturday, the Badgers (6-4-1, 1-1) carried a 1-0 lead into the third period on freshman Sean Dhooghe’s first collegiate goal on a penalty shot in the first period. North Dakota tied it 1-1 on freshman Collin Adams’ goal four minutes into the third period, but Wisconsin regained the lead as Jason Dhooghe, brother of Sean and also a freshman, scored at 8:39.

UND (6-2-2, 1-1 NCHC) answered back to tie it 2-2 as Shane Gersich scored with 5:12 left in the third period.

No. 17 Penn State salvaged a split in its series against Mercyhurst with a 7-5 victory on Saturday in University Park, Pa. Mercyhurst won the series opener, 7-4. The Nittany Lions (5-5, 1-1) saw a 5-3 lead disappear in the third period on Saturday as Mercyhurst scored at 6:17 and 12:43 to tie it, 5-5.

But Penn State went back on top, 6-5, as Nikita Pavlychev scored the game winner with 4:17 left in the third period. Andrew Sturtz scored shorthanded into an empty net with 12 seconds left.

No. 10 Notre Dame completed a sweep in its first ever Big Ten series with a 3-2 victory at No. 16 Ohio State on Saturday in Columbus. The Irish (6-3-1, 2-0) scored one goal in the second period and two within a span of 34 seconds early the third period to take a 3-0 lead. OSU scored two late goals but it couldn’t solve Irish goalie Cale Morris (39 saves).

The Buckeyes (5-3-2, 1-3) outshot Notre Dame, 41-23, including 24-8 in the final period. The Irish won the first game of the series, 4-1, on Friday.

Michigan (5-3, 1-1) and Ferris State (3-6-1) played a nonconference series on Thursday and Friday, with the Wolverines winning the first game, 7-2, and the Bulldogs rallying for a 3-2 victory in overtime in the series finale.

UPSET OF THE WEEKEND: No. 1 Denver and Western Michigan hooked up in a bizarre, high-scoring NCHC series in Kalamazoo, and the Broncos shocked the Pioneers with back-to-back victories, 6-5 on Friday and 7-4 on Saturday.

On Friday, WMU trailed 4-2 in the second period and 6-5 late in the third but the Broncos scored two goals within 15 seconds – at 18:48 and 19:03 – to tie it, take the lead and hold on for the victory.

Denver (4-2-2, 0-2) held a 3-0 lead on Saturday late in the second period before the Broncos scored at 16:37 and 17:50. In the third period, the teams combined for four goals in 1 minute and 16 seconds – at 7:48 by DU to lead 4-2 and by WMU at 8:22, 8:36 and 9:04 to go up 5-4.

The Broncos (5-3-1, 2-0) added two more goals, including an empty netter, fore the biggest two-game upset of the season.

The Pioneers will likely be replaced by No. 2 St. Cloud State as the No. 1 team on Monday in both major polls. The Huskies (7-0, 2-0) swept Minnesota-Duluth, 5-3 and 5-0, in St. Cloud.

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