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Hockey Preview:Minnesota Golden Gophers

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The Spartans travel to Mariucci Arena seeking their first road win of the season

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Last weekend was the lowest point in a season that has had very few highs, as the Michigan State Spartans were swept in a two game series against Michigan by a score of 15-5. The Spartans have not won a game since December 11 and that win is their sole win in the last 14 games. Things will hardly get easier this weekend as the Spartans are traveling to Minneapolis to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers (9-10), who seem to be finding their game after an up-and-down first half of the season.

Last weekend the Golden Gophers split their series at Penn State losing 3-2 in overtime before playing a complete game and winning 7-1 on Saturday. This years Minnesota team does not feature quite the same level of offensive firepower as the past few seasons, but they still have incredible depth compared to most teams in college hockey. Up front they are led by Hudson Fasching (Buffalo Sabres-2013 4th Rd.) and Leon Bristedt who are the two players on Minnesota's roster with double digit goals. On the blue line Jake Bischoff (NY Islanders-2012 7th Rd.) has three power play goals and is a leader for the Gophers defensively along with Michael Brodzinski (San Jose Sharks-2013 5th Rd).

Where the Gophers have struggled to find consistency is in net, after the departure of Adam Wilcox, the Gophers have turned to freshman Eric Schierhorn this year. Schierhorn, a rare non Minnesota native at the U a sign of how desperate they were to get a goaltender on campus, spent the past two seasons with Muskegon in the USHL. He has stepped into the role of starting goaltender admirably with a .912 save percentage and a 2.66 goals against average. He has been good enough for the Gophers to beat the teams they should (Ohio State, Northeastern, Connecticut) and had his best game of the season perhaps when he let in just two goals in a win at Michigan. Schierhorn was strong last weekend surrendering 4 goals on 69 shots against a talented Penn State roster, but Michigan State should have slight optimism that they will have the better goaltender this weekend if Jake Hildebrand can find his game again.

Taking a look at the stats

Michigan State Spartans (5-15-2) Stat (National Rank) Minnesota Golden Gophers (9-10)
2.50 (37) Team Offense 3.00 (17)
3.59 (53) Team Defense 2.95 (38)
14-of-89 15.73% (40) Power Play % 14-of-66 21.21% (15)
69-of-83 83.1% (26) Penalty Kill % 55-of-68 80.9% (39)
47.7% (44) Corsi For 51.0% (27)
46.5% (44) Corsi For Close 51.6% (26)
5 NHL Draft Picks 12

The key to this weekend for the Spartans will be to try and get back to the fundamentals of their game. Early in the season they played a different style of game, a style that coach Tom Anastos has been trying to build towards now in his 5th year behind the bench. The Spartans activated their defenseman into the play trying to increase their offense and it was successful early on. However, with increased pressure on offense the Spartans have not been as strong defensively, which is problematic when you start the season with just 6 scholarship defenseman (down to 5 now with injuries). Jake Hilddebrand after three seasons of answering the bell when he was overwhelmed has not been able to save the Spartans this season which has led to a frustrating season.

This weekend, especially on the large ice sheet at Minnesota, it would serve the Spartans well to focus on their past fundamentals. Getting into shooting lanes, collapsing down low to help Hildebrand, find their penalty kill again and look to win a boring 2-1 game. This type of game may not be something that inspires confidence in retaining coach Tom Anastos past this season but it can lead to a win now which is what this team needs. The rest of this season comes down to the B1G Conference Tournament in March as their only shot for making the NCAA Tournament. Every series from now to then is a chance to work on things and find their game to best be able to get on a three game winning streak in March.

Game Info

Time

9:00 PM Friday

8:30 PM Saturday

TV

Fox Sports Detroit Friday

BTN Saturday

Streaming on BTN2Go both nights

Radio Spartan Sports Network

Quotable

You’re grinding every day. And I will honestly tell you that my biggest frustration is that I feel highly of the guys in that room, what they bring every day and how they approached it. It bothers me beyond anything that they’re not seeing the right results.

-Tom Anastos on MSUSpartans.com at his press conference Tuesday

Prediction

Hard to see this weekend on the road going well for the Spartans, especially with Junior leader Joe Cox questionable to play. I think the Spartans do show good effort though and lose closely to inspire some hope for a strong stretch the rest of the season. I believe these players know their coach is under fire and this weekend will show a lot of how much they care for him. I'll say Minnesota sweeps a close series 4-2, 3-2.

Around the B1G

Michigan travels to Ohio State on Friday night taking on the Buckeyes broadcast on Fox Sports Detroit before the Michigan State game. The Buckeyes will then travel to Michigan for a Sunday evening game. Penn State hosts Wisconsin for a series.