MINNEAPOLIS — For the second night in a row, No. 3 Minnesota showed its offensive dominance, resoundingly beating Michigan State 5-0 and staking its claim to the No. 1 spot in the nation in Monday’s poll. Gopher head coach Don Lucia, though, avoided painting the bullseye on his team’s back.
“Colorado College is sitting with only two losses on the year,” quipped Lucia. “They can hold that [No. 1] mantle as far as I am concerned.”
Lucia’s compliment was especially understandable, given that his young team can’t afford to get overconfident before next weekend’s road series versus those same Tigers. Fueled by their young group of offensive defensemen, the Gophers scored five goals by the middle of the second period Saturday.
“We recruit that type of offensive defensemen. We want them to jump up in the offensive play. We took care of business tonight,” said Lucia.
“I thought coming into the game, the only chance we had to win was to score first,” said Michigan State coach Rick Comley.
Unfortunately for Comley’s Spartans, Gopher netminder Kellen Briggs had other thoughts, stopping 23 shots on the way to his third shutout of the season.
“Kellen, night in and night out, has given us a chance to win. I am sure if you asked him right now, he would say the game is slowing down for him,” said Lucia on Briggs’ performance.
“If I have to play them again, I don’t want to play them here. Minnesota is the best team we have played so far this year, especially on this ice sheet,” added Comley on playing the Gophers at Mariucci.
Minnesota opened the scoring at 7:17 on a four-on-four goal by junior defenseman Chris Harrington. Forward Tyler Hirsch held the puck on the left sidewall and waited for Harrington to find the lane in front of Michigan State netminder Dominic Vicari.
Hirsch hit Harrington with a perfect pass and Harrington completed the weak-side rush with a tap-in into the half-empty goal.
“It was a part of our game plan to have the defensemen step up against Michigan State.” said Harrington on his fellow blueliners’ efforts.
At 15:40 freshman Kris Chucko of the Gophers notched his fourth goal of the season on a five-on-five transition goal initiated by freshman defenseman Nate Hagemo. Hagemo drove the right lane, gaining enough space at the deepest part of the circle to drop the pass back to Chucko, who was skating up center lane. Chucko wristed the puck past Vicari for the 2-0 Minnesota lead.
“I thought Harrington had good legs tonight. I thought Hagemo had good legs tonight,” said Lucia of his playmaking defensemen.
The Gophers continued to dominate, outshooting the Spartans 12-5 in the first with numerous shots inside the circles.
The second period was not much kinder for the Spartans as the Gophers scored three goals in the first 10 minutes, producing an early departure for Vicari, who was replaced by Matt Migliaccio at 9:07. Vicari allowed five goals on 17 shots. Migliaccio stopped all 13 shots he faced.
“I didn’t pull him because I faulted him — I felt he’d just had enough,” said Comley.
Minnesota’s defense again generated the offense on a goal by freshman blueliner Alex Goligoski, with the only assist going to fellow blueliner Harrington at 4:32, giving Minnesota the 3-0 lead.
The Spartans were granted a brief glimmer of hope on a Danny Irmen interference call at 5:36 of the second. Those hopes were thwarted 11 seconds later by freshman forward Mike Howe, whose shorthanded goal made it 4-0. It was Minnesota’s second shot, and goal, of the period.
Ryan Potulny extended his point-scoring streak to 13 games and goal-scoring streak to four by adding a tally at 9:07, initiating Vicari’s early shower. The power goal was the Gophers’ only one of the weekend despite outscoring their opponents 10-1.
The only remaining question was Briggs’ shutout bid.
“It’s obvious when you go into the third and have not given up any goals you have to try and keep the shutout for your goaltender,” said Harrington, which the Gophers did.
Next weekend Michigan State has a home-and-home series with Bowling Green, while Minnesota travels to Colorado College.