EAST LANSING, Mich. — No. 18 Michigan State and No. 7 Minnesota skated to a 2-2 tie on Saturday in the College Hockey Showcase at Munn Arena.
With the score knotted, Minnesota (7-3-4, 6-2-2 WCHA) had two power-play opportunities in the final 6:38 of regulation. After going 5-for-9 on the man-advantage last night at Michigan, it seemed like a sure bet that the Gophers would walk away victorious.
A bruised and battered Minnesota team, however, could not find the game winner against a tenacious MSU penalty kill.
“We had our chance to win with 6 or 7 minutes left,” said Gopher head coach Don Lucia. “But the tie was pretty indicative of the game tonight.”
“The whole team fought through it,” said MSU captain Drew Miller. “Even the guys who weren’t killing were up on the bench yelling.”
Following the huge special teams effort, Michigan State (5-6-4, 2-4-3 CCHA) threatened deep in the Gopher zone. Jim McKenzie got leveled from behind on the doorstep with a loose puck in the crease. A scrum ensued, followed by a complete melee, but Jeff Frazee refused to budge and sent the game into overtime.
In the first minute of overtime, Derek Peltier was whistled for interference, giving the Spartans a power-play opportunity of their own. But Frazee stood on his head, making an incredible glove save on Colton Fretter from point-blank range to keep the score tied.
Special teams continued to be a huge part of the Gophers’ success. Last night they were amazing on the power play. Tonight, while the power play was bottled up, it was the penalty kill that earned a tie for Minnesota.
Minnesota and Michigan State scored all of their goals in the first period and then hung on for a tie. Fatigue may have been a factor for Minnesota, who did not arrive in East Lansing until after 2:00am Saturday morning.
“I told the guys to keep the game simple because we did not have our legs tonight,” said Lucia. “Last night was one of those nights where (Michigan) came after us and the seams opened up and we found them. Michigan State did a good job of getting in the lanes and not letting the puck through.”
The Gophers may not have had the jump they wanted in the final minutes of regulation, but they did come out of the gates on fire. It seemed like anything they threw at the net would find its way across the line.
Danny Irmen bounced back in a major way after missing most of the early season with a broken finger, scoring two goals on three shots in the first period. Neither shot was particularly dangerous, but they both found the back of the net. His first tally opened the scoring as he snuck a pedestrian wrist shot through Vicari’s pads that wiggled its way over the goal line.
“I don’t know if I tapped it in or if he knocked it in, but it’s nice to score a goal,” said Irmen.
With five minutes left in the first, Irmen struck again. Phil Kessel won the face off to Irmen at the top of the left circle. He lofted a wrist shot through traffic that hit Spartan defenseman Daniel Vukovic in the slot and frisbeed into the top right corner to put the Gophers up 2-1.
“Some nights you get the bounces It was kind of a ‘wish-me’ shot through people. It helps the confidence a little bit when those go in,” said Irmen.
After allowing two fluke goals in the first frame, Vicari buckled down and showed his normal form against ranked opponents. Although it started shaky, this game can be added to Vicari’s great performances in big games of his career, as the junior keeper stopped 32 of 34 Minnesota shots in the tie.
“(After giving up two soft goals), you’ve got to be like a goldfish and have a short memory,” said Vicari. “After the second period I got really comfortable, and that flowed into the third and overtime.”
Frazee played well enough to give the Gophers a chance to win. He was able to stay sharp and focused despite spotty action, giving up 2 goals on 27 shots. The game-saver in overtime is sure to make the year-end highlight reel for Minnesota.
“Colton Fretter was to my right, and I saw him dish down to someone below the goal line. Fretter darted across the crease, and the guy was looking for him, but I was right there,” said Frazee. “That was do or die right there.”
Tyler Howells netted the game-tying goal with 4:31 remaining in the first period, just 21 seconds after Irmen gave the Gophers their second lead of the night. The goal marked the first time in 80 career games that he has scored a goal at Munn Arena. Howells, an alumnus of Holy Angels, hails from Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
With the 2-2 final, Minnesota remains unbeaten at Munn Arena since 1999. The tie, however, extends Michigan State’s longest winless streak in 25 years to 8 games (0-5-3). On the other side, Minnesota is undefeated in its last 6 (4-0-2).
Minnesota will hope to keep the momentum rolling against Wisconsin, the hottest team in the nation. Michigan State returns to CCHA action with a home-and-home with Bowling Green.