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Half-dozen reasons to smile as Gophers score early and late to sweep at Michigan State

Controlling the play for long stretches, the Minnesota Gophers built a four-goal lead then withstood a Michigan State rally in the third period to close their six-game road trip with a 5-1-0 mark.

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It was Minnesota smiles all around for (left to right) Matthew Knies, Rhett Pitlick, Jimmy Snuggerud and Brock Faber after a goal during the Gophers' 6-3 win at Michigan on Friday, November 18, 2022, at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Julia Schachinger / Big Ten Network
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EAST LANSING, Mich. — If there was any concern that the Minnesota Gophers would coast with three games remaining before the holiday break, they gave fans a half-dozen reasons to relax on Saturday.

The Gophers built a big lead on the road for the second night in a row, then survived a third period rally by Michigan State, winning 6-3 for a sweep of their weekend series.

Gophers captain Brock Faber had a goal and a pair of assists in the offensive assault, which was backed up by 40 saves from Justen Close as Minnesota (13-5-0 overall, 8-2-0 Big Ten) won their 11th straight game versus the Spartans, and their seventh in a row at the Spartans’ rink.

“We’re pretty happy with a lot of things tonight,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “Got a little squirrely in the third. We got a little loose when we got offensive-minded. We gave up 43 shots, and I don’t like that part of it. So there’s the coach nit-picking on something. But we built a lead and were really strong for two periods.”

Trailing 4-0 in the third, the Spartans got a pair from Jeremy Davidson in the final 20 minutes and briefly pulled within two goals, but could not complete the rally. The Spartans fell to 11-6-1 overall and 5-4-1 in the conference.

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“Not the way we wanted the weekend to go. Obviously you’ve got to give a lot of credit to Minnesota. They’re a really good team,” said Spartans coach Adam Nightingale. “I really liked the way we came out in the game. I thought we did a lot of good things. Obviously we dug ourselves a hole but I liked our push in the third.”

The Spartans, who had lost 5-0 on Friday , started with a serious push in the rematch, and out-shot the Gophers in the opening 20 minutes. And all they had to show for it was another deficit on the scoreboard, due to one defensive mistake.

Faber found Jimmy Snuggerud and Logan Cooley behind the Michigan State defense and sent the puck up ice with a 2-on-0 break. The pair played catch with the puck before Snuggerud snapped the puck over Michigan State goalie Dylan St. Cyr’s shoulder for the only goal of the opening period.

Another defensive hiccup early in the second sprung Brodzinski on a breakaway, which he finished with a pretty backhand flip between the goalie’s knees to double the lead. Nelson and Knies made it 4-0 before the second period horn blew and there was little doubt about the eventual result.

Still, Michigan State refused to go quietly, and scored twice in the opening half of the third period to give their sellout crowd some life. But got Minnesota’s fifth goal from Mason Nevers shortly after the third period media timeout to quell the rally.

“We got sloppy there in the third and gave up some chances, but overall it was a good weekend for us,” said Faber. “It was a bounce-back weekend ... We were just getting pucks behind them. I think our work ethic showed early and then obviously it paid off in the end.”

St. Cyr finished with 35 saves for the Spartans, who lost their second game in a row after they had won their previous six consecutive.

READ MORE MINNESOTA GOPHERS COVERAGE:
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The Gophers have lost two in a row and six of seven overall.
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Eight former southeastern Minnesota hockey standouts are playing key roles for top-10 Division I college hockey teams this season.
The Gophers (9-12 overall, 2-8 Big Ten) led only once, 2-0, on a layup by Rose Micheaux in the game’s first 16 seconds.
Trailing in the second period, the Minnesota Gophers got solid goaltending and woke up offensively to sweep their weekend series versus visiting Michigan State.
After an 81-61 loss at Northwestern on Saturday, Minnesota is 1-9 in Big Ten play with 10 games remaining
It took only nine ticks of the clock for Minnesota Gophers rookie Logan Cooley to give his team a lead, and that was just the beginning of their dominance of the Spartans on Friday.
Junior wing who led Minnesota in scoring last season has struggled offensively at times this season
With two more players unavailable Wednesday, the Gophers had roughly half that roster max against Indiana at Williams Arena.
Minnesota is the worst free-throw shooting team in the nation, making a woeful 59.3% this year to rank 352 out of 352 Division I programs.

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Extra pucks

Healthy scratches for the Gophers on Saturday included defensemen Matt Staudacher and Carl Fish, and forwards Brody Lamb and Colin Schmidt.

It was the third consecutive game without a penalty for the Gophers, who have now gone 211:12 without a player in the penalty box.

The Gophers close out the unofficial first half of the season with a Big Ten series back in Minneapolis versus conference archrival Wisconsin on Dec. 9-10. The games versus the Badgers begin at 8 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday.

Minnesota 6, Michigan State 3

Minnesota 1-3-2—6

Michigan State 0-0-3—3

First period — 1. MN, Jimmy Snuggerud 11 (Logan Cooley, Brock Faber), 14:02. Penalties — None.

Second period — 2. MN, Bryce Brodzinski 8 (Luke Mittlestadt, Jackson LaCombe), 7:20. 3. MN, Jaxon Nelson 6 (Mason Nevers, L. Mittlestadt), 11:02. 4. MN, Matthew Knies 11 (Faber, LaCombe), 16:16. Penalties — None.

Third period — 5. MS, Jesse Tucker 4 (Christian Krygier), 2:19. 6. MS, Jeremy Davidson 4 (Miroslav Mucha), 9:29. 7. MN, Nevers 6 (Nelson), 11:12. 8. MN, Faber 3 (Knies, Cooley), 15:34. 9. MS, Davidson 5 (unassisted), 16:49. Penalties — None.

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Shots on goal — MN 12-17-12—41 MS 13-13-17—43. Goalies — Justen Close, MN (43 shots-40 saves); Dylan St. Cyr, MS (41-35). Power plays — MN 0-of-0, MS 0-of-0. Referees — Jonathon Sitarski, Brett DesRosiers. Linesmen — Christopher Libett, Nicholas Bet. Att. — 6,555.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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