Gophers men’s hockey routs Spartans for season sweep

Legendary motivational speaker Zig Ziglar used to talk about adopting a “day-before-vacation attitude” in daily life — a feeling of optimism and motivation, that you can accomplish much today, knowing that some much-deserved time off is in the immediate future.

On Saturday evening, the Gophers’ “day-before-vacation attitude” proved to be too much for the Michigan State Spartans to handle. In their final game before an extended break, the Gophers jumped out to a huge early lead and never offered their guests much hope.

Minnesota cruised to a 5-1 win over the Spartans and a sweep of their weekend series. Thanks to the cancellation of their series at Penn State, originally scheduled for next weekend but scrapped due to ongoing COVID-19 issues among the Nittany Lions, the Gophers are off for the next 12 days.

In opening up a five-goal lead on the Spartans before Jack LaFontaine’s shutout bid was ruined late in the second period, the Gophers (19-5-0, 15-5-0 Big Ten) got goals from a few forwards who had been quiet for a while. Senior Cullen Munson opened the scoring with his first goal since the season opener back in November. Later in the first, Jack Perbix made it 4-0 with his first Big Ten goal of the season.

“You saw it tonight even with a 5-1 lead, we were blocking shots,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “We had a number of times where we laid down and put ourselves in front of a shot the last two periods. I call that selling out, emptying the tank. I felt we played a really strong game from start to finish.”

LaFontaine finished with 18 saves. Perbix, who had scored twice in a nonconference win against Arizona State but had not scored in Big Ten play, admitted to some superstitions that may have gotten him back on the score sheet.

“Me and (Mason Nevers) and (Jonny Sorenson) decided to put sock tape on our sticks,” Perbix said. “It worked, so I’m not too mad about that.”

Munson, who has had a mustache much of the season, appeared clean-shaven in the postgame Zoom with reporters — although he claimed there was no superstition at work to get his second goal of the season.

“I didn’t really do anything different, I just stuck with it,” he said. “It’s tough when you don’t score for that long, but you’ve just got to believe it yourself and stick with it. It feels really good to get one again.”

The Gophers also got some good news on the out-of-town scoreboard Saturday, as Notre Dame managed to rally and tie second-place Wisconsin in Madison, Wis. Going by winning conference percentage, which is expected to determine the Big Ten title now that teams are playing unbalanced schedules, the Gophers sit at .750 with two games remaining (vs. Michigan March 5-6 in Minneapolis) while the Badgers are at .675 with four games to play.

If the Badgers go 4-0-0 in their remaining schedule, the Gophers would need a win and a tie or better against Michigan to capture the conference regular-season crown.

Perbix said he planned to text a thank you to his friend Trevor Janicke, who plays for Notre Dame.

A goal by Spartans forward Gianluca Esteves was the only blemish for LaFontaine. At the other end of the rink, Drew DeRidder started in goal for the Spartans (7-13-2, 5-12-1) and stopped six of the 10 shots he faced. After Perbix made it 4-0 late in the first period, DeRidder gave way to freshman Pierce Charleson, who stopped 20 of the 21 shots he faced in the final 40 minutes, allowing only a Sammy Walker goal in the second period.

“I thought the first 12 minutes we did an outstanding job. We had good pressure in good spots, we were countering real well, we were outshooting them,” said Spartans coach Danton Cole. “We had probably three bad reads, and all three of them ended up in the back of our net. Those things unfortunately happen.”

The Minnesota win came almost exactly 95 years after the first-ever meeting between the Gophers and Spartans, played on the frozen Red Cedar River, which runs through the Michigan State campus. The Gophers won that game 2-0.

The Gophers swept the season series, also winning twice in East Lansing, Mich., in early December. Motzko said that a break for the Gophers’ legs, and their heads, will be valuable.

“The biggest thing is the mental break. I think we’re fine physically, but we will get off our legs a little bit,” Motzko said. “We’ve got to stay sharp though, so we’ve kind of put a tentative plan together for the week but we kind of want to sleep on it until Monday.”

Motzko also said there is little concern about the team’s power play. They were 0-2 with the man-advantage on Saturday and have scored just one goal in their past 13 power plays, but the coach liked their looks at the Spartans’ net and the way they moved the puck.

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