EAST LANSING, Mich.-The Michigan State Hockey team has struggled to stop No.13 Minnesota’s junior forward Tyler Sheehy in his collegiate career. That trend continued Thursday night as Sheehy scored the game winning goal with 2:48 remaining to lead the Golden Gophers over the Spartans 5-4.
Sheehy, who entered the game with eight career points (three goals and five assists) against Michigan State, added two goals and an assist while also notching his 100th career point to secure Minnesota’s third win over the Spartans this season.
“When you have players like that who are fast sometimes what you want to do instinctively is back off and make sure you don’t get beat,” said Michigan State coach Danton Cole. “When you give him (Sheehy) room he is going to make a play I do not care how good you are defensively. You have to take space away and you have to close better.”
Sheehy’s game-winner came just over five minutes after Michigan State had battled back from a four-goal deficit.
Trailing 2-1, the Spartans had a huge opportunity to tie the game back up in the second period. Minnesota defenseman Clayton Phillips was given a five-minute game misconduct for hitting Brody Stevens from behind. However, instead of Michigan State getting back into the game, it was the Golden Gophers who blew it wide open with two short-handed goals.
4:15 into the period, Sheehy put the Golden Gophers up 3-1 on his eight goal of the season. 2:40 later, Tommy Novak beat Michigan State goaltender John Lethemon on a breakaway for his third goal of the year to put Minnesota up 4-1. It was on Novak’s goal that Sheehy recorded an assist for his 100th career point.
Lethemon finished with 34 saves on 39 Minnesota shots. Even though he gave up four goals through two periods, Cole said there were no talks about making a change in net.
“John has earned the right to battle through something like that,” said Cole. “He did a really good job after that fourth goal. he held the fort for a long time. Hopefully he will get something out of this.”
In the second period, Minnesota had a five-man man advantage of their own. With 12 minutes remaining in the period, Michigan State defenseman Jared Rosburg was given a game-misconduct for head butting. However, it was the short-handed Spartans that cut into their three-goal deficit and start their comeback.
:37 seconds into the power play, Taro Hirose scored his eight goal on the year to bring Michigan State within two goals at 4-2. With 5:33 remaining in the period Hirose struck again for his ninth goal of the season to bring the Spartans within one goal at 4-3. Hirose recorded his 15th multi-point game and second three-point game on the year.
“Those are weird goals and it is a funny game,” said Cole. “We can’t afford to have certain areas of our game not good. I don’t care if the other team gives up goals like that but we can’t give up goals like that. It does not work for us.”
Three minutes later, Ghafari’s first collegiate goal leveled the game at 4-4.
“We talk a lot about even if you lose a game don’t lose a lesson,” said Cole. “I liked the way the guys came back. I like the way they battled and I like the way they stuck together. Those are all good things we can build on.”
It was the Spartans that went on top 1-0, 6:47 into the game. After scoring three goals against Wisconsin during the week, freshman forward scored his 15th goal on the season and increased his goal streak to four straight games. On the goal Taro Hirose recorded his 21st assist on the season to move himself for third nationally in the category.
“Stuff is going in,” said Cole. “He (Lewandowski) goes to the net and he goes to the hard areas. He has a great set of hands and a hot stick where the puck comes off of it really fast.”
Lewandowski’s goal was set up when freshman Tommy Miller shot the puck from the blue line that missed the net. The puck bounced off the boards and right to Lewandowski who beat Golden Gopher’s goaltender Eric Schierhorn.
Schierhorn finished with 18 saves on 22 Michigan State shots and improved to 9-1-1 in his career against Michigan State.
The Spartans had a chance to go up 2-0 with 10 minutes remaining in the period. Cody Milan and Sam Saliba went into the offensive zone with a two-on-one however Schierhorn came up with the save on Saliba to keep Minnesota’s early deficit at one.
Seven minutes later, Minnesota tied the game at one. With 6:09 remaining in the first period Jack Ramsey’s second goal of the season leveled the Golden Gophers with the Spartans at 1-1.
1:48 into the second period the Gophers grabbed their first lead of the game. On the man advantage Steve Johnson scored his third goal on the year to put Minnesota up 2-1. Johnson’s power play goal was just the sixth that Michigan State had allowed in 28 attempts since Dec 8.
With the loss the Spartans fall to 0-5-1-1 over their last six meetings against Minnesota and have lost six of their last seven games and 9-15-1 overall.
Both Michigan State and Minnesota will take two days to travel to New York City where they will finish their weekend series at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night as part of the Big Ten Super Saturday Series.