If puck luck deserted the Spartans on Friday in their 4-2 loss to No. 17 Minnesota, then it returned to them Saturday night in a 5-0 win against the Gophers at Munn Ice Arena.
Freshman forward Mason Appleton proved that when he, just 46 seconds into the game, rifled a shot over the glove of Gopher netminder Eric Schierhorn that struck iron before deflecting into the back of the net.
“Last night pucks hit goalposts and stayed out, tonight [they]hit goalposts and go in,” said Michigan State coach Tom Anastos.
The Spartans came out of the gate fast, completely catching the Golden Gophers off guard and they were able to generate several quality scoring chances. Then, at the 13 minute mark of the first period, Joe Cox got a breakaway from the center line.
Cox walked in on Schierhorn, decked forehand-backhand and tucked it in to give the Spartans a 2-0 lead after one period.
Again, the Spartans came out in the second with a pace and energy the Gophers could not match. They received the games first powerplay after Minnesota defenseman Jack Glover went off for holding. The once dormant Spartan power play came alive as Villiam Haag put the Spartans up 3-0 in the early stages of the 2nd. The junior from Sweden now has four powerplay goals, which is tied for second on the team.
“I think a part of it is just coincidence, a little bit of luck,” Haag said. “I’m usually in front of the net and screen the goalie and maybe get a stick on the puck and get a tip or a rebound.”
Early in the second period, Gopher coach Don Lucia pulled Schierhorn in favor of freshman Brock Kautz. Kautz had never played a collegiate game so far in his career and was tasked to help Minnesota climb out of a 3-0 hole in a hostile environment.
Haag kept up the scoring late in the second period as he and Matt DeBlouw came down on the ice on a two-on-one. DeBlouw sent the puck on net and Haag reached out and was able to deflect the shot past Kautz to extend the Spartan lead to 4-0.
“I liked when he [Haag] went to the net and got rewarded for it,” Anastos said. “Because we need more of that on our team.”
During the second period and extending into the third, the Spartans took five consecutive penalties including a five minute major and a game misconduct to Rhett Holland for checking from behind. While the Spartan penalty kill had been good coming into this game, they found a whole new level on Saturday. Any shots or chances the Gophers got off, MSU goaltender Jake Hildebrand was square to all of them.
“There’s a lot of pride in that locker room on the penalty kill,” Anastos said. “Last year we had no success against these guys on our PK, I mean zero. And we had a good unit last year.”
All in all, the Spartans were able to kill off 13 minutes of Minnesota powerplay time.
“If you would have told me that they’d have like 15 minutes of powerplay time and [we’d] not get scored on, I might have not quite believed you,” said senior captain Michael Ferrantino.
As the third period entered it’s final phases, Minnesota took two consecutive penalties which allowed Ferrantino to net a rebound powerplay goal to put the exclamation mark on the impressive victory.
Hildebrand faced 28 shots during the course of the game and stopped all of them to secure his third shutout of the season, and the 13th of his MSU career.
“It feels really good, it’s been a while. I got a couple [shutouts]early on, and then it’s been a while; I had a few going into the third [period]this season and let them slip away,” Hildebrand said. “I thought the guys did a great job helping me out there, especially with that five minute penalty kill.”
Michigan State may be only 10-21-3 on the season, but they are 3-1 in their last four games.
Despite not getting the weekend sweep, something that was entirely possible considering how the Spartans played, Anastos believes that this was one of their most complete weekends of the season.
“I’ve been talking about trying to play our best hockey at the end of the year and that’s kinda coming,” Anastos said. “Overall, for the weekend against a good team I thought we put together, for the most part, two nights of 60 minutes of hockey and that’s positive.”
The Spartans will conclude their regular season at home next weekend against Ohio State.