Weekend Hockey Preview – Minnesota

This weekend, the Michigan State Spartans (1-1-0) (5-8-0) will welcome the No. 6 Minnesota Golden Gophers (0-0-0) (8-4-0) to Munn Ice Arena this Friday and Saturday at 7:00 pm and 5:00 pm respectively. This weekend will be the Gophers’ first conference contest of the season, meanwhile Michigan State is in a four-way tie with Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. for first in the Big Ten.

Know Thy Enemy and Know Thyself

The Gophers come into this weekend’s contest as the No. 6 team in the nation and the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten. The Gophers had a stellar start to the season but have recently struggled, going 1-4 in their last five with their most recent loss coming at the hands of Northeastern.

The Gophers also seem to be experiencing trouble on the road, as they are 1-3 when away from Mariucci Arena. However, this is an experienced Gopher squad that is well coached and has been to national championship. They know what it takes to win.

Michigan State on the other hand is still trying to locate consistency over the course of a weekend. The most recent example being an ugly split against the Princeton Tigers (2-7-1) over the Thanksgiving holiday. Because MSU’s margin for error is next to nothing, and the fact that they will be hosting a top ten opponent, the Spartans will have to have all hands on deck for all six periods if they hope to have any sort of success this weekend. No one on that roster can afford to not show up mentally.1

By the Numbers

Simply put, Minnesota has put up numbers that are nothing short of exceptional. Junior netminder Adam Wilcox (.919 sv%, 2.25 GAA) leads the Gopher backend that has allowed only 27 goals all season (1st in Big Ten). The Gopher offense has picked up where it left off last season, averaging 3.33 goals per game (10th in the nation) and netting 40 goals total through 12 games.

Minnesota’s power play is also quite deadly, operating at nearly 30 percent which is third overall in the nation. By comparison, Michigan State’s defense still is producing respectable numbers.

The Spartans boast the second-best defense in the Big Ten (2.46 GAA) and a national top ten penalty kill (.894).

The key to success for Michigan State will be on special teams. While the Spartans have struggled on the power play (6/53), the Gophers average 13.4 penalty minutes per game, and have given up 10 power-play goals. The Spartans will have to stay out of the box and take advantage of any power play opportunity the Gophers give them.

Jason Ruff is the host of Behind the Mask for Impact Sports

Photo: Brian Bobal/Impact Sports