Gophers Athletics/Paul Rovnak
Minnesota earned their first two-game sweep of the season defeating Michigan State 7-1 Saturday night. The Gophers scored 7 goals by 7 different players while freshman goalie Adam Wilcox made 10 saves for his first collegiate win.
Now that's a start to the season.
After defeating Michigan State 5-1 last night, the #1/2 Gophers followed up with quite the encore. Minnesota (2-0-0, 0-0-0 WCHA) came out of the gate roaring and for the second straight night scored three goals on Michigan State in the first 15 minutes. The Gophers didn't stop there, adding four more to sweep the weekend series 7-1 and take back the Mariucci-Bessone traveling trophy.
"They're awfully good," Michigan State head coach Tom Anastos said after the game. "That's an awfully good team. I remember watching them and think they're better."
Seven different players scored Saturday for Minnesota, which included goals from all four lines, while freshman goalie Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) made 10 saves for his first win as a Gopher. Will Yanakeff took the loss for the Spartans, making 18 saves in two periods before being pulled for freshman Jake Hildebrand.
"No, he's going to next weekend and that's a reality with the small sheet (at Michigan Tech's MacInnis Arena," said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia when asked if he was concerned about the low number of shots Wilcox faced.
Regardless, he was tested in the opening minute by a Spartans two on one and handled that. After that, it was all Minnesota as Erik Haula (Minnesota Wild) took a Sam Warning pass, drove towards the net and scored sliding past Yanakeff 1:25 into the game.
Nick Bjugstad (Florida Panthers) made it 2-0 four minutes later after linemates Christian Isackson (Buffalo Sabres) and Kyle Rau (Panthers) set him up for his second goal of the season. Then it was the fourth line getting in on the action as Tom Serratore buried a rebound home for his first goal of the year and all of a sudden Michigan State's opening odd-man rush felt like one hundred years ago.
Unlike Friday, however, that wasn't all the first period scoring. Ben Marshall (Detroit Red Wings) added his second goal of the season on a slapshot that found its way through Yanakeff's legs with 53.6 seconds left to give a 4-0 lead at the end of one. Kyle Rau scored his first goal of the season 30 seconds into the second period on a pass by Isackson behind the net and by then the final outcome was not in doubt.
"I didn't see (Kyle) right away but then I saw him in front of the net," said Isackson.
Michigan State did build upon the last ten minutes of the first period (Marshall's goal was the only shot on net) and had success keeping the Gophers on the edge of the rink. They were even more successful killing penalties - going 7 for 8 Saturday - and includes a 6:40 stretch where the Spartans were shorthanded for 6 minutes. However, it caught up to their defense eventually and Nate Condon (Colorado Avalanche) made it 6-0 Minnesota.
"We take what we can," said Anastos. "We want to be a championship caliber team and have a long ways to go."
Brent Darnell ended the shutout for Wilcox 2:05 into the third period when he saw an opening following a Spartans power play and shot the puck through the Gopher goalie's five hole. That was Michigan State's high point, though and more dominating play by Minnesota coupled with a five minute power play from a Jake Chelios hit from behind on Ryan Reilly meant 2012 first round pick Brady Skjei (New York Rangers) scored his first collegiate goal on the ensuing power play .
Say what you want to but Michigan State is no Sacred Heart (Minnesota's opening opponent last year who lost 9-0 and 6-0 at Mariucci en route to 4 wins all season). They were in the NCAA Tournament just a season ago. Although the Spartans did lose some key players from that team, that doesn't take away how impressive this weekend was for Minnesota.
Like it or not, they made a statement.
3 Stars of the Game
1. Erik Haula (1G 1A)
2. Kyle Rau (1G 1 A)
3. Brady Skjei (1G 1A)
Minnesota plays Michigan Tech next Friday and Saturday in Houghton. Both games start at 6 p.m. CT and will be broadcast on Fox Sports North.
Follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate