The Takeaway: Minnesota Starts Season On The Right Foot

Posted by: Nate Wells

Minneapolis, MN- A slow start by Michigan State ended up haunting the Spartans Friday night as three goals by the Gophers in the season’s first 13:38 fueled the #1/2 team in the country to a 5-1 win that was as close as the final score.

WCHA preseason player of the year Nick Bjugstad scored a goal and added an assist while freshman Mike Reilly and redshirt junior captain Zach Budish each had two assists. Tanner Sorenson scored the lone Spartan goal with 4:01 left as Minnesota goaltender Michael Shibrowski made 25 saves en route to his first win as a Gopher.

Ben Marshall, Christian Isackson, Erik Haula and Travis Boyd also scored for Minnesota. MSU goalie Will Yanakeff made 37 saves in defeat.

What I saw:

-The Spartans were one of two teams last year (Denver was the other) to hold Minnesota without a win in a two-game series and much of it was thanks to their defense containing the Gophers’ potent offense.  This year, however, it was the Gophers who used their speed advantage over the Spartans to beat them to pucks, out-muscle their defense and spend entire shifts in the MSU zone. While the top line of Bjugstad, Kyle Rau and Christian Isackson ran wild, the Spartans’ top line of Kevin Walrod, Lee Reimer and Greg Wolfe could not get anything going.

Simply put, Michigan State didn’t look like they got the memo during the first twenty minutes that the game started at 6 p.m.

-For being an early season game, both teams limited themselves in the number of bad penalties they took. There was only one penalty in the first 40 minutes – an interference call by Minnesota’s Mike Reilly – and he made up for it by getting the puck right when got out of the box and finding Bjugstad for a 2-0 lead.

“”It hit me in the front of the foot,” Bjugstad said about the pass.” Bjugstad said. “Luckily he was coming straight out of the box.”

-Christian Isackson scored a hat trick in Minnesota’s 7-0 exhibition win over Lethbridge and added another Friday for his first official collegiate goal. The Buffalo Sabres draft pick is getting chances playing alongside Bjugtad and Rau, however, it was his play in the defensive zone that stood out more. Prior to the goal, Christian made a backcheck to stop a developing Michigan State odd-man rush. He then proceeded to get down the ice and into position at the top of the slot to receive a pass from Bjugtad and snipe home a goal.

What I thought:

-It’s no secret that Minnesota head coach Don Lucia is looking for more out of his sophomore class in terms of secondary scoring and tonight he got that out of them. Sophomores Ben Marshall, Isackson and Travis Boyd each scored and the Gophers did a great job creating offense across all four lines. Three of the four ended up getting goals and even when a line seemed to be quiet for a stretch like the Sam Warning-Erik Haula-Zach Budish line in the second period, Haula showed it didn’t take much to wake them up.

Minnesota has plenty of known offensive talent in their top-six but getting secondary scoring makes them very dangerous.

-Despite giving up all five goals, Spartan goaltender Will Yanakeff  made some tremendous saves to keep things closer. He was ready right away when stopping Sam Warning on a coast-to-coast- breakaway in the first minute and only gave up rebound goals over the final 40 minutes. Michigan State seemed to shy away from physical play which didn’t help matters but once the Spartans began doing a better job forcing the Gophers to the outside they were much more successful.

-Minnesota’s special teams were successful on both ends. The team killed all three MSU power plays while scoring on a 90 second 5×3.

What they said:

-Minnesota defenseman Nate Schmidt on the impact of Bjugstad returning for his junior year:  “He’s a man among boys down low. You can go and try to get him but you won’t.

“So yes, that’s why we wanted to get him back.”

-Minnesota head coach Don Lucia on coming out strong on Friday night: “We did something we wanted to see. (Shibrowski) had a great night and the defense did a good job protecting him.”

What else you need to know:

-Freshman John Draeger was the only Michigan State defenseman to finish with a positive +/-. Meanwhile, Mark Alt finished with a career-beat +4 for the Gophers.

-Minnesota out-shot Michigan State 42-26

-The Spartans only had one shot opportunity below the face-off dots in the first period despite a two minute power play.

-The game’s three stars were 1) Nick Bjugstad 2) Mike Reilly 3) Zach Budish

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