Fourth line helps Gophers hockey edge Michigan State

  • Article by: MIKE EIDELBES , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 8, 2013 - 9:25 AM

Minnesota outshot Michigan State 17-3 in the opening period and took a 2-0 lead.

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Don Lucia said the Gophers won at Michigan State because of their strong play in the first period.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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– Twice in Friday’s shootout loss to Michigan State, the Gophers’ hockey team took one-goal leads and, despite outplaying the Spartans for long stretches, watched the leads disappear both times.

The visitors were determined not to let that happen in Saturday’s rematch.

The top-ranked Gophers (12-2-2, 3-0-1 Big Ten) smothered the Spartans in the first period, scoring two goals and outshooting the hosts by a 17-3 margin over the game’s first 20 minutes on the way to a 3-2 victory. In fact, Michigan State managed only a mind-numbing seven first-period shots.

“We won the game in the first period,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “We came out and played with energy, got pucks behind their defensemen, and scored on the power play.”

The Gophers’ first goal, about 12 minutes into the game, summarized that dominance. Christian Isackson, lurking to the right of MSU net, stuffed the rebound off a Gabe Guertler shot between the post and the leg pad of goaltender Jake Hildebrand.

It was Isackson’s first goal and Guertler’s first assist and point of the season.

“We knew we had to get pucks to the net,” said Isackson, who also assisted on defenseman Mike Reilly’s second-period goal. “We’d gone over the stats from [Friday’s] game and we had a lot of shot attempts, but there was no real second chances. It was important to attempt to get pucks to the net and jam away.”

Seth Ambroz gave the Gophers a two-goal edge with a power-play goal with 1:35 left in the first period, tipping a Michael Brodzinski blast from the point past Hildebrand. It was Ambroz’s team-high eighth goal of the season and fifth in four game.

A little more than six minutes into the second period, the Gophers’ lead expanded to 3-0. Defenseman Jake Bischoff beat an MSU skater to a loose puck in the offensive zone and tipped it to Isackson, who then shoveled it to Reilly just inside the blue line.

Thanks to a Guertler screen, Hildebrand never saw Reilly’s shot.

The Gophers’ fourth line of Isackson, Guertler and sophomore Ryan Reilly — Mike’s older brother playing his first game this season — was particularly effective, combining for seven shots and generating both even-strength goals.

“We needed that,” Lucia said. “We needed some guys to step up. Other guys get an opportunity and they have to do the job.”

Michigan State’s Villiam Haag scored on the power play with 4:43 left in the second period to make the score 3-1, but the Spartans (5-8-1, 0-1-1) never really threatened thereafter. Michael Ferrantino, MSU’s goal scorer in Friday’s shootout, scored in a goalmouth scramble with one-tenth of a second left in the third period, poking a loose puck past goalie Adam Wilcox, who made 19 saves.

Hildebrand made 35 saves.

After the game, Lucia said defenseman Jake Parenteau broke a bone in one of his legs during Friday’s game in East Lansing and will undergo surgery Monday in Minneapolis. He could be sidelined for as long as eight weeks, and joins forwards Vinni Lettieri and Tom Serratore on the injured list.

Parenteau had played in 13 games and was a plus-13.

Fortunately for the Gophers, Saturday’s game marked the start of an extended break . The Gophers don’t play again until Jan. 3-4, when they host the Mariucci Classic.

“It’s a welcome break for us,” Gophers co-captain Nate Condon said. “Any time guys can step away from the rink and get healthy and get ready to play again is good. Any momentum we have now we can carry into the second half.”

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