The Michigan State Spartans ice hockey team opened the second game against the No. 9/11 Minnesota Golden Gophers by surprise. MSU was forechecking nicely, winning a lot of puck battles, and controlling the pace of the game.
It was all Michigan State early on. MSU head coach Danton Cole had promoted freshman forward Jesse Tucker to the Spartans’ top line. After a poor performance last night, Josh Nodler was demoted to MSU’s fourth line. It was MSU’s top line that was on fire to start the game, as it had scored both goals early on.
Minnesota goaltender Jack Lafontaine misplayed the puck behind his net, allowing Erik Middendorf to eye a wide-open net. Jeremy Davidson scored a power-play goal moments later, giving MSU a 2-0 lead.
The Spartans’ streak of 17 consecutive penalty kills came to a halt when Minnesota scored on the power play, credit to Chaz Lucius, his second in two games.
Penalties were the story of the night, as Michigan State had a grand total of seven. Seven different MSU players had committed penalties, and not a single player went to the box more than once. The Spartans were able to hold Minnesota’s power-play unit, which converts on more than 25 percent of chances, to a 14 percent success rate on Saturday night, and to nine percent over the weekend series.
Michigan State’s third goal of the night came from Middendorf again, as Tucker was able to set up another wide-open net, creating offensive pressure. With five minutes to go in the second period, MSU held a 3-1 lead.
Don’t blink yet, the last minute of the second period turned out to be a disaster. Minnesota had scored two goals in 40 seconds, making the deficit disappear, and tying the game at 3-3 going into the final 20 minutes. In the first two minutes of the third period, Minnesota created a two-goal lead, making the game 5-3, after goals credited to Blake McLaughlin and Jack Perbix (one of which was initially given to Rhett Pitlick and would’ve been his first career goal).
PICK THAT PUCK UP!— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) January 9, 2022
Pitlick bounces it juuussstttt right to get his first goal in Maroon & Gold! pic.twitter.com/z0jz1J9Pqv
Two of the six goals surrendered by Michigan State on Saturday night were off of its own players.
Michigan State goaltender Pierce Charleson was a major bright spot for MSU, stopping a career-high 54 shots. It is the sophomore’s second 50-save game of the season, as his first came against Penn State earlier in the season.
Charleson kept the Spartans in the game for most of the second period, often drawing applause from the crowd after the Gophers created several consecutive scoring chances.
A closer look at Pierce Charleson tonight. He's been outstanding in the second period, which has been MSU's worst all season long. pic.twitter.com/o8d4wtC8wy— Brad LaPlante (@bradlaplante) January 9, 2022
Michigan State is now 1-6 without senior forward and point-leader Mitchell Lewandowski in the lineup, who has been out with an injury since leaving the game early against Michigan Tech.
In the locker room, Middendorf said Cole’s message to the team was simply to “stick together” and that’s what the Spartans will try to do.
“It’s obvious we lost a huge part of our team in (Mitchell Lewandowski),” Middendorf said. “The message was just to stick together after this one. We got two huge games next weekend, a team that we’re battling in the standings against, and those two games are huge.”
Following the loss, MSU falls to 11-10-1 overall on the season and 5-7 in the Big Ten.
Michigan State will take on the Wisconsin Badgers next weekend, Friday, Jan. 14 and Saturday, Jan. 15. Both games are in Madison, Wisconsin and will air on B1G+. The Spartans swept Wisconsin in East Lansing in November.