EAST LANSING, Mich. — It may only be November, but it was hard for anyone who watched No.1-ranked Minnesota and No. 4 Michigan State play at Munn Ice Arena on Sunday to believe it wasn’t March or April.
The two teams skated to a thrilling 4-4 tie on Sunday in an intense, penalty-filled affair that saw special teams dominate.
After MSU senior winger Bryan Maloney scored to put MSU up 4-3 with 12:55 left in the game, Minnesota freshman winger Barry Tallackson forced the tie when he scored with just 2:09 left in the contest.
The Spartans and the Gophers combined for five power-play goals, three by MSU, and 26 total penalties.
Neither MSU head coach Ron Mason or Minnesota head coach Don Lucia seemed comfortable with the officiating.
“I thought there were too many special teams type situations in this game,” said MSU head coach Ron Mason. “Four-on fours and two-men down situations that technically I think should have favored Minnesota.”
Added Lucia, “It was very tightly officiated and we have to try adapt to a situation like that, but it’s hard when you’re not familiar with the officiating when you go to a different league.”
After MSU freshman center Jim Slater opened the scoring 7:25 into the first period on a Spartan power play, and Minnesota freshman winger tied the game 25 seconds later on an even strength goal, the special teams game swung the Gophers’ way.
Minnesota came into the game second in the nation with a whopping 38.6 percent conversion rate, and that increased after sophomore winger Grant Potulny camped himself in front of the MSU goal and tipped a pass from Jeff Taffe and in for a 2-1 Minnesota lead with just 14 seconds left in the first period.
At 5:07 of the second, the Gophers struck again on the power play when senior winger Erik Wendell poked a loose puck in the crease behind MSU goalie Ryan Miller, after Miller failed to corral a bad angle shot from sophomore winger Troy Riddle.
MSU didn’t fold, however, showing it could play the man-advantage game as well.
Senior winger Joe Goodenow tipped defenseman Brad Fast’s point shot past Hauser and in on a power play to cut the Minnesota lead to 3-2 at 7:38 of the second period. A turning point in the game came five minutes later when MSU junior winger Bryan Maloney was called for a five-minute major penalty after elbowing Minnesota star center Johnny Pohl in the head.
The Spartans managed to kill the penalty off, then found themselves with a two-man advantage to start the third period when Gopher defensemen Jordan Leopold and Matt DeMarchi were in the box for respective holding and tripping penalties towards the end of the second.
MSU took advantage with just 25 seconds remaining in the first penalty to Leopold when Adam Hall put home a rebound just under the crossbar in front of Hauser to tie the game at 3-3 at 1:14 of the third.
The play was set up by Slater, who cut in from the side and put a shot on Hauser, creating the rebound opportunity for Hall.
Maloney then made up for his undisciplined penalty by poking home a puck past Hauser in the midst of a scrum in front of the Gopher goalie to put MSU up 4-3 with 12:55 left in the game.
The goal held up until Tallackson fired a puck through traffic and behind Miller to retie the game 4-4.
“It definitely picked up the intensity on the bench,” Tallackson said of his goal. “I think it just gave us a little more firepower and a little bit more edge to tie the game or to get the win.”
The Gophers couldn’t put another past Miller, but Minnesota head coach Don Lucia was happy to come out of the weekend’s College Hockey Showcase with a win at Michigan on Friday and a tie against the Spartans on Sunday.
“It was the type of game for men only and the type of game we expected it to be,” he said. “That’s probably the best game we’ve played in this year.”
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for Minnesota, which will next play a home-and-home series with third ranked St. Cloud followed by a road series at No. 2 Denver.
Michigan State ended its season-long seven game homestand at 6-0-1, and will next travel to Alaska-Fairbanks next week.
“I just give all the credit to the captains and the older guys for keeping the younger guys up,” Slater said of the team coming back from a 3-1 deficit to earn a tie. “We know we could come back and beat that team and we almost did it.”