Men’s hockey takes shot against No. 1 Michigan State

David La

The second-ranked Gophers men’s hockey team skates against their first non-conference opposition since whitewashing Notre Dame and Bemidji State in early October.
No. 1 Michigan State and No. 7 Michigan visit Mariucci Arena this weekend as part of the annual College Hockey Showcase, the last of five 2000 NCAA tournament teams Minnesota faces in November.
“I’m looking forward to see how we match-up with two of the top teams in the CCHA and the country,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said.
Last season, Minnesota beat the Wolverines 6-1 in Ann Arbor, then absorbed a 6-2 waxing by the Spartans in East Lansing.
Michigan State jumped out to a five goal lead in the second period, and goaltender Joe Blackburn kicked away 23 of 25 shots.
Things will be decidedly different this season. The Spartans have scored more than five goals in a game only three times this season, and Blackburn is no longer the starter between the pipes.
Sophomore Ryan Miller traded starts with Blackburn last year, before taking over the position throughout the post-season.
Miller earned second-team all-CCHA and all-Rookie status last season, ranking second in the nation in goals against average (1.53) and fourth in saves percentages (.932). Miller also posted eight shutouts.
“He’d be right at the top in our league,” Lucia said. “We’ve got some good goalies but the numbers he’s putting up are phenomenal.”
The offensive numbers Michigan State is posting are not as spellbinding.
Of the 30 top scorers in the CCHA, the Spartans can claim only three. The team is sixth in the conference in goals scored, but first in goals allowed at a mere 1.60 per game.
“I’ve had successful teams that led our league in scoring and I’ve had successful teams that led our league in defense,” Michigan State coach Ron Mason said. “You have to play to the strengths of your players at the time.”
The Gophers started preparation for the Spartans on Monday, watching video of a sloppy third period against St. Cloud State. The players got to relive a period in which a 3-0 lead degenerated into a 4-3 nailbiter.
Allowing Michigan State to similarly close the gap could prove costly; the Spartans are 4-1 in one-goal games this season.
“There’s a lot of games that go into the third period close,” Mason said. “You have to get your share of wins in games like those or you won’t have a chance. We’ve been pretty good at it.”
No. 1 for now
Michigan State retained its top ranking in the United States College Hockey Online poll after a sweep of Northern Michigan two weeks ago.
The Spartans lead the CCHA by a lone point, with Michigan right behind.
The Spartans play conference foe Lake Superior on Tuesday, and while the new polls won’t come out for a week, a loss would likely make Minnesota the de facto No. 1 team heading into the weekend.
Hauser gets nod
Junior goaltender Adam Hauser took WCHA defensive player of the week honors for the second time in three weeks.
Hauser stoned St. Cloud State for the first 109:39 of the series, picking up his sixth career shutout in the process.
“Hauser was great, he was good,” Huskies coach Craig Dahl said Saturday. “He smothered every chance we had.”
With one more blanking, Hauser will tie Minnesota’s all-time career mark for shutouts, currently held by Jim Mattson (1951-’54), John Blue (’84-’87), and Steve DeBus (’95-’98).

David La Vaque covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]