Gophers Complete The Comeback On Hockey Day Minnesota Beating Michigan State 6-3

January 28th, 2023: From down a goal twice, the Gophers complete the comeback on Hockey Day Minnesota over the Michigan State Spartans. 

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Minneapolis, MINN Back in 2007, the Gophers beat the Denver Pioneers 5-4 capping off their first-ever win on Hockey Day Minnesota. The Dallas Stars beat the Minnesota Wild in a shootout but since then the Wild have gone 12-2-1 and 11-1-1 when playing at home on Hockey Day Minnesota.

The Gophers on the other hand haven’t been the best. They have lost their last four games played on HDM but three of the four were played on the road. Their last home HDM game was against the Michigan Wolverines in 2022. They lost that game 4-1. Tonight they cap off the comeback to earn their first HDM home win since 2015.

The Gophers hold a 7-5-1 record on Hockey Day Minnesota and a 5-3-1 record when playing at home. They are 4-2-1 in their last seven home games which dates back to 2011. They have played Michigan State twice on HDM and have won one and lost the other.

But on their first HDM home game against Michigan State, the Gophers started the game with one of their ugliest first periods. The first period saw Michigan State dominating play. The Spartans had 12 shots as opposed to the Gophers’ four.

Shots can tell a story of how a team does in the first on generating chances but out of the four first-period shots, only one of them was a high-danger chance. They also couldn’t exit the zone. They exited the zone effectively only 78 percent of the time which is one of the worst first periods they have had in quite some time.

At least three of the eight failed zone exits led to high-danger chances for the Michigan State Spartans. But yet again Justen Close slammed the door on all of the chances and walked out of the first period with 12 saves. The Gophers were lucky to not come out of the period down a goal or two.

The only bright spot in the period was the Gophers’ captain, Brock Faber. The junior defender had four controlled zone exits on five attempts. Faber also had two shot assists which equaled a total of .468 expected goals.

Faber admitted yesterday that the Gophers need to be on their game right away or they will be in for a rude awaking. That was exactly what happened, a rude awaking when Connor Kurth went to the box early into the second period.

“Michigan State is a good team,” Faber said to the media after yesterday’s 8-0 win. “It just wasn’t their night. Tomorrow is going to be a lot closer. Tomorrow will be a battle.”

It’s nice when your captain shows up for the game but it’s tough when it seems to be that your captain and goaltender were the only two who looked ready to play a hockey game. You could say maybe it was the early start time but the Gophers are 3-0-0 this year when playing at 5:00 pm or earlier so that can’t be the case.

Last year the Gophers went through many ups and downs, they were hard to figure out. The Gophers’ head coach Bob Motzko would say after some games where they looked sluggish and unaware, “the boys left their brains in Dinkytown tonight.” That quote applied to Saturday’s game.

Kurth’s second-period tripping penalty sent the Spartans to the power play just two minutes into the period. One freshman passed one over to another and Karsen Dorwart got the Spartans on the board just 32 seconds into the power play.

But like many times this year the Gophers answered with their top line and Jimmy Snuggerud tied the game up just a minute and five seconds later. Yesterday the Gophers’ first goal was scored off the opening faceoff of the game when Cooley caught a pass from Faber and walked all the way in.

The Gophers’ first goal in today’s game also came off the draw but was much quicker after the faceoff win. Cooley won it back for Snuggerud who then ripped one past Dylan St. Cyr for his 15th goal of the season.

That was Snuggerud’s ninth goal and 24th point in 18 Big-Ten games. With the assist, Cooley extended his point streak to five games. He has two goals and eight points in that span.

But only one minute and 28 seconds later, Michigan State regained the lead. This time the goal came from a collapsing neutral zone and a defensive zone turnover. A mini two-on-one chance for Daniel Russell and Dorwart.

With a diving Close, Russell notched his eighth goal of the year and 23rd point. Dorwart got his second point of the night and his 16th assist of the year.

About seven minutes later Logan Cooley took the puck from the blue line to the front of the net. With the sliding effort from St. Cyr, the post was knocked off due to the momentum from the Spartans’ goaltender.

Rushing in were Brody Lamb and Garrett Pinoniemi just in case the puck was loose. Well, indeed it was and Pinoniemi notched his second goal of the year and his second goal in his last two games.

Last weekend Pinoniemi was scratched for the two games against Michigan but he continued to work hard in practice and earned Motzko’s trust for this series against Michigan State.

When young guys are scratched, coaches encourage them to keep their head up and keep grinding but also to watch the game from a different angle. Envision yourself making a play in that game and see if it would work out by watching the play develop.

Also, work on going to the net. The best way to get goals is to stand in front of the net or drive to the net. As the old saying goes, if you want bread you go to the store and if you want goals you go to the net.

Pinoniemi dashed to the net and banged home his second goal of the year tying the game at two a piece.

About two minutes later, Ryan Johnson sent an outlet pass up the gut to Bryce Brodzinski. The senior forward charged in on St. Cyr and ripped one past the graduate student giving the Gophers their first lead of the game.

From one of the worst first periods this year to a 3-2 lead in a matter of 20 minutes and the Gophers completely took over.

With under five minutes left in the second Russell took a run at Mike Koster and knocked him on his butt. If this was the NHL Russell would get jumped by the entire team and, to be honest, Russell is lucky it isn’t the NHL. Instead, his punishment was a five-minute penalty and a game misconduct.

Koster would not return to the game but it seemed after that play the Gophers really took over.

Ryan Chesley had a monster game yesterday he had 11 controlled exits on 12 attempts, 92% effective. He also had four shot assists which are the most by a Gopher defender all year. Total xGF on the shot assists was 1.252 which is the highest total by any Gopher player all year. Tonight, he notched his second goal on the year picking the top corner to push the Gophers’ lead to 4-2.

Just about two minutes later Matthew Knies collected a pass from Snuggerud in the slot and slipped one under the pad of St. Cyr. Slipped makes it seem like it was a soft shot. It was anything but soft.

The goal-scoring didn’t stop at five though as Snuggerud wanted another. Knies and Snuggerud walked into the offensive zone waited and set up a gorgeous play. Snuggerud ripped home his 16th goal of the year on a ridiculous shot, giving the Gophers a 6-2 lead.

Michigan State got a late goal with a mintue and 20 seconds remaining but the Gophers were able to close this one out for their first home Hockey Day Minnesota win since 2015.

The Gophers will get a weekend off before traveling to play the Wisconsin Badgers. The two rivals met in early December and saw 18 goals being scored. 13 of which were from the Gophers. After that, it’s one series on the road against Penn State and one series at home against Ohio State. Then it’s Big Ten Playoff time.

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