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Minnesota Preview: The Hockey Version

The Spartans' hockey team will travel to Minnesota for a crucial series

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan State Spartans hockey team, like their basketball classmates, will be taking on the Minnesota Golden Gophers Thursday night. The Spartans will play at Mariucci Arena Thursday and Friday against the current league leader in an important late season series. The Spartans sit tied with Penn State, two points back of Michigan and Minnesota with just six games remaining. A series sweep at the hands of the Gophers could end the possibility of reaching the second seed in the league and receiving a bye to the semi-finals in the league tournament.

In early December the Spartans hosted the Gophers, and as they have done in all three series as Big Ten foes, the Spartans took two out of a possible six points. The Spartans rebounded from an abysmal 5-0 loss on Friday night to earn a shootout victory on Saturday. The Gophers found success on the power-play, going 5/9 on the weekend. To put that in perspective, as mentioned in this week's podcast, the Spartans have given up a total of 12 power play goals in 28 games. If the Spartans had gone 9/9 killing penalties that weekend against the Gophers, separate of changing the series outcome, the Spartans would move from the 9th best penalty kill in the country to the 1st. Needless to say special teams will be key.

Also, of the utmost importance is who will leave Friday with the Honeycrisp Trophy!

Honeycrisp Trophy

So what's been going on with the Gophers since last time?

The Gophers had nearly a month off after that series against Michigan State and did not have the best January. It started with taking 3rd place in their own tournament after losing to Merrimack in the opening round of the Mariucci Classic. The Gophers followed that with being swept at Michigan, getting 4 of 6 points from Wisconsin, losing both games at the North Star College Cup and finishing the month again getting 4 of 6 points from Wisconsin. February saw a turnaround for the Gophers though as they won five games in a row before losing to Penn State last Saturday in overtime.

What has brought about the turnaround for the Gophers?

Goaltender Adam Wilcox was never really solely to blame for the Gophers' struggles but the team defense was simply not up to par. However, they seem to have tightened up on the back end as the Gophers hadn't allowed more than two goals in any game before last Saturday's loss. The Gophers have seen better play from defenseman Brady Skjei and their upper class leaders like Mike Reilly, Kyle Rau and Travis Boyd have continued to chip in often.

Stats Table, Game Info and Links

Time/TV: 9:00 PM both Thursday and Friday on BTN

Webstream: BTN2Go (Both Nights)

Radio: Spartan Sports Network

SBN Minnesota Blog: The Daily Gopher

Michigan State Spartans Stats Match-Up (National Rank) #15 Minnesota Golden Gophers
2.29 (44) Goals Scored/Game 3.50 (6)
2.25 (12) Goals Against/Game 2.53 (31)
16-of-105 15.24% (39) Power Play Percentage 34-of-116 29.31% (1)
84-of-96 87.5% (9) Penalty Kill Percentage 86-of-109 78.9% (45)
Matt Berry (Sr) 8G, 13A 21pts Leading Scorer Mike Reilly (Jr) 5G, 29A 34pts

Jake Hildebrand (Jr) 13-13-2

2.18 GAA, .926 save %

Expected Goaltenders

Adam Wilcox (Jr) 17-9-3

2.49 GAA, .907 save %

3 keys to Spartan success

  1. Penalty Kill- Simply cannot emphasize this enough. The Spartans' penalty kill has been excellent all season but in their outing with the Gophers they were dominated. Minnesota scores 32.3% of their goals on the man advantage. On the larger ice surface with more room to operate their power play can be deadly. The Spartans need to take as few of penalties as possible, will need to continue to get in shooting lanes and look for the Gophers power play to run through the defenseman at the point.
  2. Gap control- Hopefully after a few more seasons in the league playing on the large ice surface of Mariucci will not be a story line. Unfortunately, it still is a concern for the Spartans this weekend as the large ice surface does not play to their slower, less creative style. Defenseman will need to make sure not to lose their place below the goal line, get lost in the corners and not let the Gopher wins fly down the wing by playing too far off on them. This task was made tougher this week with the loss of freshman defenseman Carson Gatt to suspension (forward Dylan Pavelek was also suspended) due to an unspecified violation of team rules.
  3. Mackenzie MacEachern- After being named the #1 star in all of NCAA Hockey two weeks ago, MacEachern was held without a point at Wisconsin. MacEachern is a big power forward who likely will get matched up against the 6'3" Brady Skjei from Minnesota. That will be an important one-on-one battle to pay attention to and it is hard to imagine the Spartans winning a game this weekend with Mac going scoreless again.

Around the Big Ten

Michigan will host Wisconsin for a pair of games at Yost this weekend. Penn State is travelling to Ohio State.

Extra Pucks in the Bag

  • 2013-14 captain Greg Wolfe has had a great first season as a pro hockey player. Wolfe led all ECHL rookies in scoring with 44 points and was signed by the Iowa Wild to a professional try-out. He has played seven games with the Wild collecting one assist.
  • Andrew Rowe (2007-2010) was named the ECHL's Player of the Week. Rowe, who has split time this season between the ECHL's South Carolina Stingrays and AHL's Charlotte Checkers, had two goals and six assists in four games for the Stingrays last week.
  • Colton Fretter (2002-2006) has spent this season playing for the Sheffield Steelers (Elite Ice Hockey League, a.k.a the Great Britain League) and has 54 points in 51 games, good enough for 14th in the league. Fretter has played overseas since 2010, with stops in Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and now Great Britain.
  • Daniel Vukovic, defenseman from the 2007 National Championship team, and his Geneve Servette club in the Swiss league will begin their playoff run on March 3. Vukovic is featured in this video here, running Rocky Balboa style through the streets (begins at :13 second mark) and it will brighten your day! seriously, Geneve has the best videos. Check out this beauty from 2013-14 with Vukovic at the 24 second mark.

I want to treat this preview as a game thread to hang out in during the game.  Also be sure to follow me on twitter @Jeremy_Dewar. Also, I am trying some new things out in the previews with the extra links (extra pucks in the bag) so leave a comment/suggestion on that if you guys have any. Also, be sure to leave suggestions anytime in the comments or any questiosn for a possible mailbag/podcast answer if you'd like as well! Go Green! Go White!