EAST LANSING, Mich. — Too many penalties and Minnesota sophomore forward Thomas Vanek’s three-point performance cost Michigan State a needed win against the Gophers Friday night at Munn Arena, as the Gophers won 5-1.
The Spartans were whistled for 13 penalties, including a major for checking from behind in the second period, that totaled up to 37 minutes. The Gophers rang up 11 infractions and 22 minutes.
Those numbers go a long way to explaining the huge differential in shots — Spartan goaltender Dominic Vicari faced 52 shots and made 47 saves, while at the other end of the ice, Gopher goalie Kellen Briggs saw 24 and stopped 23.
Almost the entire second period was spent in the Spartan zone.
And with so much puck possession, how could the Gophers lose, even with Spartan goaltender Dominic Vicari in net?
Answer: they didn’t.
Minnesota made the Spartans pay for being penalized the first time of the night when senior Grant Potulny found the back of the net for the first of three Gopher power play tallies of the night a little over 13 minutes into the first period.
The second period saw two more Gopher power play goals, off the sticks of sophomore forward Tyler Hirsch and senior forward Matt Koalska. Sandwiched in between the two power play tallies was an even strength goal by Spartan junior forward Mike Lalonde, who has five points in two games (4-1-5).
Vanek added to Minnesota’s lead in the third after assisting on two goals earlier in the game, and Troy Riddle rounded out the scoring for the Gophers.
“Obviously the power-play worked well, but I just thought we played with a lot of energy tonight,” Minnesota Head Coach Don Lucia said. “I think we had twenty shots on the power play and Vicari played outstanding.”
“I thought it was really important that we got that fourth goal. Then you put the game away, you don’t let the game get to 3-2.”
“Obviously there were things that happened in the game that gave you no chance, but at the same time they’re a better team. Our youth at some positions showed, I thought, tonight, inexperience at positions showed at times tonight, but they put such pressure on you if you’re going to put them on the power play,” Spartan Head Coach Rick Comley said.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a game between two national powerhouses without a little controversy. Halfway through the penalty-laden second period, Spartan junior defenseman Corey Potter was whistled for a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for checking from behind.
Unlike a minor penalty, when a team scores on the power play during a major penalty, the shorthanded team doesn’t get their player back — they stay shorthanded. An obvious problem against a team like Minnesota, who went 3-7 on the power play in the contest, including one goal during the major assessed to Potter.
After the Gophers scored the goal during the major penalty to the Spartans, Spartan junior forward Adam Nightingale was pursuing a puck that Gopher goaltender decided to skate out of his crease and play, and there was slight contact between the two as Nightingale tried to skate between the boards and Briggs — except there wasn’t any space between the two. Referee Mark Wilkins whistled Nightingale for roughing and told him to have a seat for two minutes.
Comley was livid about both calls. And it wore on his depleted defense — with Potter hitting the showers early for his game misconduct, Comley was left with only five defensemen for the remainder of the game — almost 30 minutes.
“We lose Potter, so we’re down to five. Then we had to play those defensemen so much, they wore out — they got really, really tired under a lot of pressure.”
But disputed calls didn’t take away from the excellent play from the Golden Gophers, Comley admitted. “They move the puck so darn well, and they get so many good chances, and they’re record is only indicative of the fact that they’ve been beat up. They’re a better team than we are right now.”
“We beat a good team tonight, and that makes us feel good, especially on the road,” Lucia said. “It’s a nice way to start the weekend.”
Minnesota will face off against the Michigan Wolverines tomorrow night at Yost Ice Arena at 7:35 p.m., while the Wisconsin Badgers will travel to Munn to face the Spartans starting at 7:05 p.m.