While the game itself had some moments of excitement, the outcome was going to be clearly in Minnesota's favor as they controlled the play from the moment the puck dropped to start the game to the final horn. If this is what the top team in the US Collegiate game looks like, there will be a few blowouts that Minnesota lays on teams this season. Tonight was one of those nights.
Michigan State, to their credit, battled hard all night after losing 5-1 on Friday night. They threw checks, some of the devastating variety. They got into passing and shooting lanes to break up plays and turn the game up ice. They skated with desperation in races to loose pucks. There were even glimpses of former NHL star Chris Chelios as he watched his son, Jake Chelios, play for the green-and-white Spartans.
The problem with all that the Spartans did is that they were consistently a step behind the Gophers. Races to the puck were routinely won by the Gophers, and, when they were not, the larger and stronger Gopher players simply outmuscled the Spartans to win the puck. The Gophers were physically faster to the puck and with the puck to put the Spartans behind the eight-ball all night.
If there was one statistic that showed the level of domination, it was on the shot total. Minnesota led 10-3 in shots after the first period, 24-9 after forty minutes, and 34-11 at the final horn. If you're doing the math, that's basically a 3-1 advantage for the Gophers. Unless players by the names of Bossy, Lafleur, and Lemieux were skating for the Spartans - and they were not - there was going to be a lopsided score at the end of the game.
Your final score showed as 7-1, but it could have been worse. Much, much worse. Will Yanakeff and Jake Hildebrand made some spectacular saves to deny Minnesota from hitting double-digits. Also contributing to the single-digit score was the Michigan State penalty kill which held the Minnesota attack to one goal on eight chances, including a five-minute powerplay in the third period after Jake Chelios was sent to the showers for checking from behind.
The difference between the two teams could be summed up in one word: depth. Minnesota had five different goal-scorers in each of its victories, and there were 18 points split between Minnesota's top two lines. Nick Bjugstad, Kyle Rau, and the newly-inserted Christian Isackson dominated as Minnesota's top line. The Zach Budish-Erik Haula-Sam Warning second line was just as potent, and they looked as if they were playing shinny at the local rink rather than NCAA hockey on some shifts.
The back-end of the Minnesota squad was rarely tested, and goaltender Adam Wilcox looked bored at times tonight in so much as he decided to range from the net unwisely to chase loose pucks. While he didn't get burned on any of his wanderings, you have to wonder if head coach Don Lucia will have a word with his goaltender about his concentration level. If it were a team with slightly more jump, Wilcox could have been burned on a couple, if not more, of his meandering skates to pucks.
Honestly, if there was any question as to which team was the top team in the nation, Minnesota answered quickly with a 4-0 lead after twenty minutes. Everything after that was just gravy, and you could tell that Lucia was having his team work on the finer points of the game - passing in the neutral zone, breakouts from their zone - as the game wore on and Michigan State stopped pressing.
I'm just happy to have seen the game, and I'm grateful that The Score television network seems to be bringing some solid NCAA action to Canadian viewers while the NHL and NHLPA collectively work on pulling their heads from their rear ends.
I can honestly say that spending a quiet night at home observing Gophers in their natural state would make anyone a little happier.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!