Great eight: Gophers pound Michigan State to open series at Mariucci
Those arriving late at 3M Arena at Mariucci on Friday night missed some early fireworks. No worries, though. The Gophers men's hockey team gave the announced sellout crowd of 10,220 plenty more chances to practice the "Minnesota Rouser."
Logan Cooley scored nine seconds into the opener of the Big Ten series and added two assists, and fellow freshman phenom Jimmy Snuggerud and defenseman Mike Koster had a goal and two assists each as the second-ranked Gophers beat 15th-ranked Michigan State 8-0. Justen Close made 21 saves for his fifth shutout of the season.
The blowout, fueled by goals from eight different players, enabled coach Bob Motzko to enjoy a largely stress-free evening after a stretch of tight games.
"I watched four overtime games in five games. I didn't mind that," Motzko said of Friday's result.
Aaron Huglen contributed a goal and an assist for the Gophers. Matthew Knies, Connor Kurth, Jackson LaCombe and Garrett Pinoniemi also scored goals for Minnesota, which outshot the Spartans 33-21.
The Gophers (19-7-1, 13-3-1 Big Ten, 40 points) increased their Big Ten lead to 13 points over Penn State, which lost 7-3 to Michigan, and Ohio State, which was idle. Fourth-place Michigan State fell to 13-12-2 and 7-8-2 with 24 points. The series concludes with Saturday's 4 p.m. start.
BOXSCORE: Gophers 8, Michigan State 0
Before the crowd could settle into their seats, the Gophers had a 1-0 lead. Cooley dug the puck out of a scrum on the opening faceoff before it hit off a Spartans player and found Ryan Johnson's stick. Johnson fired a cross-ice pass to fellow defenseman Brock Faber. With Cooley open down the middle, Faber hit him with a pass in stride, and the No. 3 overall draft pick of the Arizona Coyotes raced in and snapped a shot past Spartans goalie Dylan St. Cyr only nine seconds after faceoff.
"Great pass from Faber to Cooley," Motzko said. "We worked on that, they read it, and it started from there."
Said Faber, who had two assists, as did Johnson: "Luckily, [Cooley] was open, and obviously he doesn't miss that breakaway much."
Snuggerud extended the Gophers' lead to 2-0 at 16:47 of the first when he blasted a shot from the slot over St. Cyr's right shoulder.
"That's a staggering shot," Motzko said. "We all shake our heads when he takes that."
Koster had a hand in two of the Gophers' three second-period goals, with Kurth converting Koster's rebound for a 3-0 lead and Koster hammering home a rebound of a Rhett Pitlick shot to make it 5-0. In between, Knies scored his 16th goal of the season on a pretty give-and-go with Snuggerud.
"All of us can contribute offensively," said Koster, part of a blue-line corps that had seven points. "The biggest thing was we were smart and weren't giving up chances the other way."
The Gophers blew it open in the third, capped by Pinoniemi's first career goal.
During the romp, the Gophers' skill was on display in unorthodox ways as Knies tried a lacrosse-style shot and Pitlick tried to finish a breakaway with a between-the-legs effort. Neither worked, but both drew a buzz from the crowd.
"It was a feel-good night that we can feel good about right now, but we have to park it because we have to play tomorrow," Motzko said.