Hockey teams on all levels like to play with a lead. Thanks to one of their red-hot rookies, the Minnesota Gophers did that for nearly a full 60 minutes on Friday.
Logan Cooley’s goal just nine seconds after the opening faceoff set the tone as the Gophers seemed in control right from the final strains of the National Anthem, beating Michigan State 8-0 for their 12th consecutive win over the Spartans, dating back three years.
“After four overtime games in the past five games, I didn’t mind that. A little less stress,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “Everybody was going tonight offensively, but it starts right off the bat with a great pass by (Brock) Faber to Cooley.”
Faber, the team captain, had a trio of assists for the Gophers (19-7-1 overall, 13-3-1), who needed no overtime hockey in this one. Justen Close backstopped his 16th win of the season with 21 saves.
For the Spartans (13-12-2, 7-8-2), goalie Dylan St. Cyr had 16 saves in the first 40 minutes before he was replaced by Pierce Charleson for the final period.
Spartans first-year head coach Adam Nightingale, who coached Cooley and Jimmy Snuggerud last season with the USA Hockey National Development Team, said his team initially rebounded from Minnesota’s quick start.
“After that we played pretty good, but obviously the game got away from us there, and we’ve got to be better tomorrow,” Nightingale said. “The easy thing to do is feel sorry for yourself and point fingers. The reality is we’ve got a chance tomorrow and we’ve got to look in the mirror.”
It was a showcase of the Gophers’ high-powered top line, as Cooley, Snuggerud and Matthew Knies all had goals before the second intermission, when the Gophers led 5-0. Charleson would fare not much better than the Spartans’ starter, as Jackson LaCombe scored on a power play and Aaron Huglen got his second goal in as many games, opening up a seven-goal lead.
“It’s exciting when the student section is rocking and the building is rocking,” said defenseman Mike Koster, who had a goal and two assists. “We kind of fed off the momentum and I think we did it the right way the whole night.”
For Close, it was his fifth shutout of the season, and his second versus Michigan State. He blanked the Spartans with 25 saves in a 5-0 win on Dec. 2 in East Lansing, Mich. It was the Gophers’ most lopsided win of the season, eclipsing a 7-1 defeat of Wisconsin in December.
Charleson faced a dozen Gophers’ shots in the final period, finishing with nine saves.
No practice, still a perfect start
Michigan State actually won the opening faceoff of the game, but Spartans center Karsen Dorwart pushed the puck forward, rather than pulling it back. It slid to the Gophers blue line where defenseman Ryan Johnson took control and got the puck to Faber. From there, Faber — who claimed they hadn’t practiced the play — knew what to do.
“Not once, we didn’t even talk about it,” Faber said when asked if he and Cooley had worked on a lightning-like start to games. “You feel like the quarterback … and you always look for the center first, if he’s open.”
Faber looked, and Cooley was indeed open, splitting Spartans defenders and heading at full speed for the offensive blue line. Faber’s pass was on target, and Cooley was in alone on St. Cyr before most fans had even sat down.
“Luckily he was open, and obviously he doesn’t miss that breakaway much,” Faber said. “No drawing board for that one.”
Healthy scratches for the Gophers on Friday included defenseman Matt Staudacher and Carl Fish, along with forwards Charlie Strobel and John Mittelstadt. Defenseman Luke Mittlestadt returned to the lineup after missing the previous two games due to an injury suffered in a 3-0 win at Notre Dame on Jan. 14.
The penalties called on both teams in the second period were the first whistled in a game between the Gophers and Spartans this season. The teams played two penalty-free games at Michigan State in early December.
The Gophers and Spartans conclude their two-game Big Ten series and their season series with a 4 p.m. CT first faceoff at 3M Arena at Mariucci on Saturday afternoon.