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Hockey Preview: #6 Minnesota Golden Gophers

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This weekend the 6th ranked Golden Gophers come to Munn for a pair of games

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

After a weekend playing out of conference in New Jersey against the Princeton Tigers, the Michigan State hockey team will return to Big Ten play this weekend, hosting the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Spartans are coming off a disappointing split against Princeton and will need to play their best hockey of the year if they want to compete with the Gophers.

Minnesota spent the first few weeks of the season ranked 1st nationally and was the preseason favorite to repeat as Big Ten Champions. The Gophers have four losses on the season, two came against 8th ranked Minnesota Duluth and the most surprising loss was the Gophers' most recent game. Last Saturday after throttling Boston College 6-2 (BC beat the Spartans 3-2 on November 14), the Gophers lost at lowly Northeastern 3-2. The Huskies started the season 0-8-1 and are one of the worst teams in all of division one hockey. Minnesota will most assuredly be looking to get that bad taste out of their mouth this weekend against the Spartans.

#6 Minnesota Golden Gophers 8-4-0 (0-0)

Time/TV: 7:00 PM Friday Fox Sports Detroit | 5:00 PM Saturday Comcast 900

Online Streaming: Both nights are on BTN2Go

Radio: Spartan Sports Network

Game Week Q&A's: Danny from The Daily GopherMy answers at TDG

Michigan State Spartans Stats Match-Up (National Rank) #6 Minnesota Golden Gophers
2.23 (41) Goals Scored/Game 3.33 (10)
2.46 (26) Goals Against/Game 2.25 (22)
6-of 53 11.32% (44) Power Play Percentage 12-of-41 29.27% (3)
42-of-47 89.4% (9) Penalty Kill Percentage 45-of-55 81.8% (36)
Matt Berry (Sr) 7G, 6A 13Pts Leading Scorer Kyle Rau (Sr) 4G, 11A 15Pts

Jake Hildebrand (Jr) 5-8, .914 save%

2.42 goals against average

Expected Goaltenders

Adam Wilcox (Jr) 8-4 .919 save%

2.25 goals against average

Trying to highlight just a few Gophers to watch this weekend would be nearly impossible. Their roster features NHL draft picks on the depth lines and there is consistent scoring throughout the lineup. As mentioned in the Q&A Justin Kloos (2012 Minnesota Mr. Hockey winner) is someone to focus on as he leads the team in goals and is actually one of the few Gophers who does not have his rights owned by an NHL franchise. Fellow sophomore forward Taylor Cammarata (3rd round New York Islanders 2013) is often a linemate of Kloos, his teammate from the USHL. Cammarata is a small forward but has great hands and vision and can set up any goal scorer perfectly. On the blue line the Gophers are led by Mike Reilly (4th round Columbus Blue jackets 2011) and Brady Skjei (1st round New York Rangers 2012). Reilly moves the puck well and is able to create offensively while Skjei is one of the best 2-way defenseman in all of college hockey.

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3 Keys to Spartan Success

  1. Must Score Power Play Goals- The Gophers average nearly 4 more penalty minutes per game than the Spartans this season. Couple that with a slightly below average penalty kill and it presents an opportunity for the Spartans. The first power play unit has been successful as of late for the Spartans and if an upset is going to happen this weekend the Spartans will need the power play to produce.
  2. Depth Production- The Gophers will be able to match-up strongly with the Spartans top two lines. Last Saturday night in the win over Princeton the Spartans got some much needed depth scoring, which has been rare this season. Matt DeBlouw chipped in with a goal and an assist, as did Tanner Sorenson. Sorenson, a senior, has been in and out of the lineup the last two seasons ever since an early season suspension ion 2013. He was inserted into the lineup Saturday for only the 4th time this year and produced immediate results. How Tom Anastos juggles the line-up will be interesting this weekend.
  3. Need Amazing Jake Hildebrand- Hildebrand is a one man version of the 2012 MSU football defense. He puts up great numbers yet sees no wins. It's hard to say but his performance has possibly been a little underwhelming this season, if only due to the incredibly high standard he set his first two seasons. Hildebrand was great in four games against the Gophers last season, holding them well below their scoring average and will be needed again in the same fashion this weekend.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Some amazing stats in <a href="https://twitter.com/AndyBaggotWSJ">@AndyBaggotWSJ</a>&#39;s B1G preview: Mich State G Jake Hildenbrand has a .924 career sv% and 23-40-9 career record (cont)</p>&mdash; Mike Eidelbes (@INCH) <a href="https://twitter.com/INCH/status/540524006844411904">December 4, 2014</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>More re MSU&#39;s Hildenbrand: 11 other NCAA goalies (min 30 GP) have career sv&amp; of .924 or better. Their combined career record: 359-200-71.</p>&mdash; Mike Eidelbes (@INCH) <a href="https://twitter.com/INCH/status/540533128352505856">December 4, 2014</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>


Prediction
I picked my first sweep last weekend and got burned. For the season I stand at 4-3 on picking the days exactly right (I picked a split at New Hampshire but flipped the days) with one exact score prediction (3-1 win @ OSU). In the Q&A I picked a Gopher sweep 4-2, 3-0.

Around the B1G
Minnesota and Wisconsin are playing their first league games of the season this weekend, while everyone else in the league sits at 1-1 on the season. The Badgers are hosting Penn State this weekend after Wisconsin finally got on the board with their first win last Saturday. Michigan and Ohio State will play a single game this weekend in Ann Arbor Friday night.