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Minnesota is leaving New York, New York Saturday with a season sweep over Michigan State.
The Gophers went to Madison Square Garden as part of the third annual Big Ten “Super Saturday” hockey-hoops doubleheader. While the men’s basketball team fell 67-49 to Ohio State earlier in the day, the men’s hockey team bounced back to skate away with a 2-1 win over the Spartans.
“It was a great experience for our players and our staff to come out here and play at such a historic venue, but as we told our players it’s only fun when you win,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. “We had to grind out a win tonight. It wasn’t easy. I kept talking to our players that sometimes when you don’t have your legs or your hands that you need to find a backup game and find a way to win.”
Minnesota (15-12-1, 6-9-1-1 Big Ten) junior forward Brent Gates Jr. proved he can make it both here in New York and anywhere, scoring the game-winning goal with 3:29 remaining in regulation. The Grand Rapids, Mich. native who grew up going to Spartans games continued a hot weekend that began with two assists in East Lansing on Thursday.
His goal came off a bouncing pass by teammate Jack Ramsey that was able to be batted past Michigan State (9-16-1, 3-12-1-1 Big Ten) goaltender John Lethemon, who made 20 saves.
“It was reaction. I didn’t know what I doing honestly,” said Gates.
After being swept by Michigan at home last weekend, Lucia mixed up his forward lines to make a brand new start of it. One such combination was Gates placed with Casey Mittelstadt, who got the Gophers on the board 11:23 into the game, tipping a Gates pass past John Lethemon, who finished with 20 saves.
“I’m happy for Junior especially,” said Lucia. “He’s been trending in the right direction. I’m happy with the way he rebounded especially.”
The Spartans spent much of the game trying to find a No. 1, getting back in a New York groove without two-thirds of the team’s top line. MSU leading scorer Mitchell Lewandowski earned a game misconduct in the opening five minutes of Saturday’s game for his hit to the head of Gopher forward Tommy Novak.
Taro Hirose left in the first period with an upper-body injury and didn’t return.
“I don’t think it will be too bad,” said Michigan State head coach Danton Cole about Hirose, who is expected to be ready in time for MSU’s next series Feb. 2-3.
“It was reaction. I didn’t know what I doing honestly”
Minnesota goaltender Mat Robson stopped 19 of 20 shots in his first start since being pulled on Jan. 12 against Michigan. The only Spartans goal came when Cody Milan redirected Jerad Rosburg’s attempt from the blue line.
“Today was a little bit of a redemption, but I’ve always said to myself that the best goalies have short memories,” Robson said. “You have to get back to basics and know that you can play at this level.”
Minnesota is now three games above .500 and 10th in the PairWise, which mimics the criteria used to select the 16-team NCAA Tournament field. (Teams must finish at or above .500 to be eligible) The Gophers return home, hoping to avoid small-town blues that have yet to melt away against No. 1 Notre Dame.
With the sweep, Minnesota looks to make a brand new start entering a difficult eight-game stretch.
“Obviously this weekend was huge for us to get two wins,” Mittelstadt said. “We had some fun last night walking around the city, but tonight we knew we were going to need a win. We didn’t play our best, but we grinded one out.”