Gophers men’s hockey earns series split with Michigan State
It was a dominating performance from the ninth-ranked Golden Gophers men’s hockey team Saturday afternoon during a 5-1 victory at No. 8/7 Michigan State inside Munn Ice Arena. Oliver Moore’s three-point effort led the way and Justen Close limited the home team with 24 saves.
Minnesota (15-7-4 overall, 8-5-3 B1G) bounced back from a tough finish Friday night to pick up a season split against the Spartans (17-6-3 overall, 11-3-2 B1G) and add three important points to its Big Ten Conference total.
The Gophers were sent to the penalty box less than three minutes into the action, but the call quickly was negated as Jaxon Nelson was held while breaking free for a shorthanded chance. Seconds after Minnesota returned to full strength, Cal Thomas took a cross-ice feed from Bryce Brodzinski and gave a pass right back to his teammate in the slot. Brodzinski controlled the puck off his skate and fired a shot past the MSU netminder’s blocker, giving the Maroon and Gold a 1-0 edge at the 4:52 mark with a power-play tally.
The lead extended to 2-0 less than 90 seconds later as Aaron Huglen followed a Connor Kurth chance and tapped home the rebound inside the blue paint. Both teams were called for the same infraction with too many players on the ice and skated 4-on-4 for the second time during the opening frame. Close helped the Gophers fend off a late surge from MSU to preserve the two-goal cushion at intermission.
The Spartans began the second period with another strong push in their offensive zone where Close delivered key saves, allowing the visitors to strike back. Moore stole the puck from a MSU defenseman at the blue line and capitalized on space given to him, wiring a shot from the right circle to the blocker side as Minnesota’s advantage stretched to 3-0 five minutes into the stanza. MSU took advantage of a failed clearance by the Gophers during a power play to get on the board with 9:55 remaining in the middle frame, cutting the margin to 3-1. Huglen nearly got the goal back, but his shot on a man advantage rang off the post, and Minnesota pushed back to keep its lead through 40 minutes.
An early third-period giveaway from the home side gifted both Brodzinski and Nelson point-blank chances on target that needed to be turned aside. The Gophers forecheck helped keep the sellout crowd quiet and it was Moore again that tacked on an insurance marker with nine minutes left in regulation. Rhett Pitlick chipped the puck ahead to Jimmy Snuggerud, who pushed a slick pass across the crease to the waiting stick of Moore and the Mounds View, Minn., native buried the chance for his third goal of the weekend and first multi-goal performance of his young career. Mason Nevers added a goal into the empty net via a bank shot from distance down the stretch and Minnesota skated away with a 5-1 victory.
(University of Minnesota athletics contributed information to this article.)