EAST LANSING, Mich. — After scoring their first goal in over 108 minutes of hockey and keeping the Spartans at bay for another 26 minutes, the Minnesota Golden Gophers found themselves having to respond quickly to salvage their College Hockey Showcase weekend. Fortunately for Minnesota, Mike Carman stayed put at the end of a shift change late in the third and found himself with the right shot to lift the Golden Gophers over Michigan State, 2-1.
With a 1-0 lead at 16:35 in the third, the Gophers watched as Michigan State’s Andrew Rowe pounced on an opportunity behind the Minnesota net, a quirky bounce off the back dashers after goaltender Kent Patterson deflected Daultan Leveille’s initial shot from the left circle. The puck came straight from the boards to Rowe at the left post, and the Spartan tucked it in quickly between Patterson and the upright to tie the game.
It took Minnesota less than a minute to regain the lead with Carman’s second goal of the season.
“I was about to go change, and I saw our guys keep it in so I turned around,” said Carman. “The puck popped out right in the slot and I just got it, picked my head up quick and just unloaded it on net and we had a nice screen. I don’t think the goalie ever saw it.”
After losing 6-0 to Michigan in their first Showcase game Friday night, his team’s resilience and Carman’s heads-up play were exactly what Minnesota head coach Don Lucia hoped to see tonight.
“We responded that next shift after they scored kind-of a fluky goal,” said Lucia. “That’s something we’ve been talking about…guys getting in front of the net and screening. It was a great net-front by [Josh] Birkholz and I don’t think the goaltender saw the shot.
“I’m just happy with the way we came back and played after kind of an abysmal performance last night.”
The Spartans had entered the Showcase ranked No. 8, but leave the weekend with a four-game winless streak, having tied and lost to Notre Dame last weekend.
“We played two good teams that skated really well” said MSU head coach Rick Comley of the Showcase, which included a 7-3 loss to Wisconsin Friday night. “That gave our kids, I thought, some trouble. Even with a bad start last night, we had a chance to get back in that game. Tonight, obviously, we could have won this game.”
Both Patterson and Michigan State’s Drew Palmisano earned their keep tonight, with Patterson stopping 37 shots in his first career win; Palmisano made 40 saves on 42 shots in his fourth loss of the season. Patterson looked especially good in the first period, before the Gophers had rediscovered their scoring touch. His stop on Levielle’s solo breakaway midway through the first was an early momentum builder for Minnesota.
“I had to make a save, obviously,” said Patterson. “It was huge for our team just to keep us in there right away. You’ve got to make big saves to win hockey games.”
“He made a lot of key saves for us at key times,” said Carman. “The one goal he did let in, there’s not much he could have done about it. It came off the glass with a funny bounce and the guy was right there with the rebound. He definitely played a great game for us tonight.”
The Gophers took the 1-0 lead at 3:32 in the second on Jordan Schroeder’s goal, a play that his coach called “highlight reel.” Schroeder and Nico Sacchetti flew into the MSU zone two-on-one with Spartans’ defender Jeff Petry the lone defender back. Schroeder beat Petry, switched hands and scored five-hole on Palmisano for Minnesota’s first goal since the first period of their 3-2 loss to Minnesota-Duluth Nov. 21.
After battling to keep the Spartans off the scoreboard for so long, when Rowe found the net late in the third, Carman said that the team experienced an unpleasant dj vu .
“We’ve been struggling,” said Carman. “We had a big loss last night and everyone was pretty down about that and we wanted to redeem ourselves.
“When they scored with a few minutes left I thought, ‘Here we go again; another tie.’ It felt great to pull ahead again at the end there because we haven’t rebounded a lot when that’s happened this year.”
The sinking feeling the Gophers experienced was nothing to what Michigan State felt moments later. “Sickening,” joked Comley. “Disappointing, for sure. It wasn’t even dangerous; we just gave them the puck.”
Comley was anything but down after the game, pleased with the way his team played after Friday’s loss.
“Minnesota’s a good team,” he said. “They’re struggling a little bit but they had seventeen NHL draft picks dressed tonight and they skate very well. We had plenty of chances. ‘Palmy’ played really well in goal and I thought their kid played well.”
Comley said he told his young squad to “just relax” after the game was over. “Lesson learned,” he said.
For the Golden Gophers, tonight’s contest snapped a four-game losing streak. Both Patterson and Carman attributed the win to a total team effort.
“I thought [the defense] did a great job of blocking shots and keeping guys out of the front of the net and just protecting overall,” said Patterson. “That was the game plan.”
Each team returns to conference play next weekend, Dec. 4-5. Minnesota (5-8-1) has a home-and-home series against Minnesota State Dec. 4-5, while the Spartans (9-5-2) head to Northern Michigan.