MINNEAPOLIS – For one night at least, the Minnesota Golden Gophers put their scoring troubles behind them.
In their return to Big Ten play, Minnesota scored three times in the first ten minutes of the game, didn’t look back from there and cruised to a 7-2 win over the Michigan State Spartans on Friday night at 3M Arena at Mariucci. Head coach Bob Motzko wasn’t worried about the team starting slow playing just one day after Thanksgiving.
“We had good jump all week,” he said.
Tyler Sheehy and Brannon McManus scored twice each for the Gophers (4-5-1, 2-1-0-0 Big Ten), and Brent Gates and Ben Brinkman both had three assists. A fast start was exactly what they needed coming off a disappointing nonconference series against St. Lawrence, and they delivered just that in front of a crowd of 8,774.
“It was a strong start for us. You score a couple of goals and we had good continuity in our lines,” Motzko said. “It was a very solid night for us.”
Mitchell Lewandowski scored and had an assist for the Spartans (4-7-0, 0-3-0-0 Big Ten), but they just could not recover from Minnesota’s hot start and dropped their sixth game in a row. Patrick Khodorenko added a second-period goal for Michigan State.
It didn’t take long for Minnesota to get started. The Gophers got their first goal from Rem Pitlick as he tipped home a backdoor feed from Brent Gates on the left-wing wall just 3:17 into the contest, and Tyler Sheehy scored just 25 seconds later to make it 2-0. That goal briefly chased starting Michigan State goaltender Drew DeRidder, who didn’t make a single save before exiting the first time. John Lethemon came on in relief and made 16 saves to take the loss before DeRidder came back in net for the entire third period. DeRidder made six saves.
Brannon McManus upped the Minnesota lead to 3-0 at the 9:06 mark of the period, but Mitch Lewandowski finally stopped the bleeding for the Spartans seven seconds later with a top-shelf goal, quickly cutting the Spartans’ deficit back to two.
“We haven’t had that this year a lot,” Motzko said when asked about the game’s first ten minutes. “We’ve had a lot of minutes with no goals. I liked how we didn’t lose focus. [Khodorenko] stuck that one in the upper corner, and then we’d hunker down and get back on top of our game.”
The Gophers didn’t play with a ton of intensity in the second period, but still scored three more times on a Sheehy rebound goal, an amazing Sammy Walker backhand goal over Lethemon’s shoulder and a Clayton Phillips blast from the top of the left circle. It was the sophomore defenseman’s first goal in a Gophers uniform.
McManus capped the game’s scoring with the lone goal of the third period. Mat Robson made 22 saves for the victorious Gophers.
The series finale is at 7:07 CT on Saturday night.
MINN goal at 3:17: Rem Pitlick (5). Assisted by Brent Gates (4) and Matt Denman (1, first collegiate point).
MINN goal at 3:42: Tyler Sheehy (2). Assisted by Gates (5) and Ben Brinkman (1, first collegiate assist).
MINN goal at 9:06: Brannon McManus (4). Assisted by Sammy Walker (4) and Denman (2).
MSU goal at 9:13: Mitch Lewandowski (4). Assisted by Taro Hirose (11) and Jerad Rosburg (3).
MINN goal at 0:54: Sheehy (3). Assisted by Gates (6) and Jack Sadek (4).
MINN goal at 7:12: Walker (3). Assisted by Blake McLaughlin (4) and Brinkman (2).
MSU goal at 10:04: Patrick Khodorenko (8). Assisted by Lewandowski (8) and Zach Osburn (4).
MINN goal at 18:05: Phillips (1). Assisted by Brinkman (3) and Nathan Burke (1, first collegiate assist).
MINN power-play goal at 11:38: McManus (5). Assisted by Walker (5) and Tyler Nanne (3).
Power plays: MSU 0-3, MINN 1-4.
Shots on goal: MSU 24, MINN 29.