East Lansing, MI – The visiting Minnesota Golden Gophers topped the Michigan State Spartans 4-1 in front of 4,922 at Munn Ice Arena. Ben Meyers’ two goals paced the Gophers, and Jack LaFontaine’s 24 saves to inch closer to the league-leading University of Michigan Wolverines in Big Ten play. The Spartans kept the game close, but the depth of Minnesota proved too much for MSU late.
Senior Sammy Walker gave the Gophers the jump at 8:34 of the first period when he stepped out of the penalty box and buried a cross-ice pass from Blake McLaughlin at the far post for the 1-0 lead. McLaughlin and Brock Faber assisted on Walker’s eighth goal of the season.
Meyers gave the Gophers the 2-0 lead at 8:34 when he beat Drew DeRidder (32 saves) with a low shot from the bottom of the left circle. Chaz Lucius assisted on Meyers’ sixth goal of the year.
The Spartans pulled one back on sophomore defenseman Nash Nienhuis’ first NCAA goal at 16:08. The Sarnia, ONT. native was set up for a one-timer from the slot by Kristof Papp and Jeremy Davidson. Papp carried along the boards and hit the brakes before dishing to Neinhuis, who just skated into the zone from the Spartans bench. Nienhuis’ blast from the top of the right circle beat LaFontaine low at the far post.
“It’s definitely a relief, but I don’t take myself as a goal scorer. I’m a puck-moving defenseman. They come and go. It was great to get the first one. But it’s a goal, nothing to compare to the grand scheme of things. We lost,” said Nienhuis of his first goal.
The pace of action slowed a bit in the second period due to reviews, but the play itself continued to be fast and physical. The physicality was on display at the 9:00 minute mark when LaFontaine and Spartan forward Jagger Joshua engaged in a foot race to a loose puck. LaFontaine came out of his crease past the top of the left circle, where he poked away the puck but not before a punishing hit by Joshua that sent LaFontaine’s helmet flying. Joshua drew a penalty for Charging.
MSU challenged Hit to the Head later in the period but lost the challenge and their timeout in the process.
Meyers notched his second goal of the game at 16:44 when he one-timed a Matthew Knies past DeRidder from the slot. Knies and Lucius assisted on the strike.
The biggest save of the night for LaFontaine came with roughly a minute left in second-period action when Papp raced in from the right side and tried to beat the 6′-3″ graduate student on the backhand.
The Gophers had three penalties against them in the third period, but the Spartans were unable to muster much in the way of an attack. The period’s only goal came at 16:19 when it initially appeared that Meyers netted a hat-trick, but the goal was Lucius’.
Meyers caught a Knies pass and beat DeRidder on a backhander but hit the post. The puck caromed in off of Lucius at the opposite side of the goal. The 4-1 goal was the freshman Lucius’ sixth goal of the year.
“It was a real good game for us,” said Gophers coach Bob Motzko. “In the first 10 minutes, I loved how we came out. It got all the lines going; we got all our energy going, we were on top of pucks and made life very difficult on them.”
“Not a lot to say,” said MSU coach Danton Cole. “Minnesota played well, and we’ve got to work an awful lot harder than that and an awful lot more battles to win against a team like Minnesota. For the first time in a while, I thought it was a pretty uneven effort, and we’re going to need to be an awful lot better tomorrow.”
The two teams square off again on Saturday at 7:30 pm.