The Minnesota Gophers entered the final year of the annual College Hockey Showcase riding high. They were winners of two straight and had gone 5-1-1 in their last seven. The Michigan State Spartans, on the other hand, had lost three straight contests and were 1-6-0 in their last seven games.
None of that seemed to matter Friday night at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis, though, as the Spartans scored three goals in the first ten minutes of the game to take a lead they wouldn't relinquish, winning 5-2.
The Gophers actually came out of the gate looking like the better team, racking up 12 shots on goal despite not having any powerplay opportunities. However, a combination of poor defensive-zone coverage and bad puck luck doomed Minnesota in the first. Michigan State's sophomore captain Torey Krug struck first with a powerplay tally from the point that ping-ponged through several defenders before trickling over the goal line behind Gopher starter Kent Patterson and into the net. The goal, at 2:26 of the period, was followed quickly by another just 22 seconds later, this on a two-on-one rush that saw Dustin Gazley deposit a Daultan Leveille pass past Patterson. Not even three minutes into the game and the Gophers were down 2-0 already, and things would get worse before they got better. A Brett Perlini goal which was very nearly waived off due to being played with a high stick gave the Spartans a 3-0 lead only 8:48 into the period, and it gave the Spartans a lead which would prove insurmountable. After this goal Alex Kangas came off the bench to relieve Patterson, and played solidly the rest of the frame.
The period concluded with no more goals scored, but the damage was already done, and the Gophers entered the locker room with a sizable hole to climb out of, like they've done every Friday home game thus far with the exception of the very first game of the season. The Gophers have played five Friday home games so far, and have trailed 3-0, 4-0, 5-0 and 6-0 at some point four of those five games. The coaching staff needs to prepare this team better to come out and play on Fridays at home - it's tough to win when you're down three-plus goals right out of the chute. It seems like the Gophers just give up when they allow the first goal. The team, 8-5-1 on the year, is 7-0-1 when they score the first goal and 1-5-0 when giving up the first goal. The players need to realize that the game isn't over if they give up the first goal - good teams find a way to win, and this team needs to dig deep and find a way to pull themselves back into games. I'm sick and tired of watching the Gophers give up the first goal and knowing that more than likely they're going to pack it in for the rest of the game. Come back strong and compete!
Minnesota attempted to come back strong in the second period. The Gophers carried most of the play, and broke through on a Cade Fairchild powerplay goal. A shot from the high slot got through a screen and between Spartan goalie Drew Palmisano's legs to get the Maroon and Gold on the board. It actually looked to me like Jake Hansen got his stick on the puck just before it trickled over the goal line, and originally the goal was credited to Mike Hoeffel. The goal occurred at 5:46 of the period and gave the Gophers another burst of life. After generating several more quality scoring opportunities, Mike Hoeffel intercepted a Spartan cross-ice pass and was in alone on Palmisano. Hoeffel fired the puck right into the netminder's glove, though, and the score remained 3-1. The opportunity was not wasted, as just moments later at 10:19 of the period Hoeffel fed Taylor Matson on a two-on-one and Matson unleashed a slapshot from the middle of the right circle that beat Palmisano and drew the Gophers to within one at 3-2.
The Gophers and Spartans traded chances the remainder of the period, with the Gophers retaining the edge in quality opportunities, until the final two minutes of the second. Michigan State broke into the Gopher zone on a two-on-one, and bad luck once again struck Minnesota as Dustin Gazely's cross-ice pass deflected off of Seth Helgeson's stick and into the back of the Gopher net, giving Michigan State a crucial two-goal lead heading into the second intermission. The goal, at 18:10 of the period, completely deflated the team, whose comeback hopes were now put aback once again. The goal was also the first one that Alex Kangas had given up in the game, after having played solidly throughout the first and second periods. This goal was not Kangas' fault, as the puck glanced off of Helgeson's stick before coming to rest behind the Gopher goalkeeper.
The third period was an exercise in and of itself, with the Gophers showing relatively little passion. That passion was all but extinguished when Derek Grant, earlier given a 10 minute misconduct, pulled the puck out of the corner on the powerplay and walked all alone to the net before top-shelfing a shot to give the Spartans their fifth goal of the game. This goal wasn't on Kangas, either, as Grant had no Minnesota player within 15 feet of him.
The game ended at the score of 5-2, and the Gophers played like they deserved it. Only several players showed any will to win or passion, and only one of those players deserves the title of Player of the Game.
Gopher Player of the Game: Taylor Matson
Matson always shines in games when the team phones it in, because #9 ALWAYS plays hard. He's finally getting rewarded, too. Matson continues to see action above his usual fourth-line role, and has already scored six goals on the year, good for third on the team. Matson's goal in this game was a big one, too: it brought the Gophers back within one at the time. Matson's strong, consistent effort and his ability to get on the scoresheet net him the Player of the Game in this one.