EAST LANSING – The Michigan State hockey team played one of its best games of the season in a 5-0 win over 17th-ranked Minnesota on Saturday night at Munn Ice Arena. Jake Hildebrand made 28 saves to earn his third shutout of the season and 13th of his career.
Villiam Haag scored twice and added an assist, while Mason Appleton, Joe Cox and Michael Ferrantino also found the back of the net.
“Our penalty kill was excellent all weekend, our power play generated more shots and pucks went in,” said MSU head coach Tom Anastos. “So, the game liked us more, but you usually make or break yourself. I liked the balance in our lines and I thought our defensemen did a good job of advancing the puck and played with some physicality.
“We have to keep building, it was a good win for us.”
A night after scoring less than four minutes into the game, the Spartans struck even earlier as Appleton lit the lamp just 44 seconds into the first period of Saturday’s contest.
Michael Ferrantino and Ryan Keller teamed up to get Appleton the puck in the left side of the neutral zone just before he hit the Gopher zone. Appleton moved toward the net and let a perfectly-placed snap shot go from the left circle that beat Minnesota goaltender Eric Schierhorn up high, just below the cross bar.
The Spartans kept the pressure on the Gophers in the opening period as the line of Cox, Thomas Ebbing and Mackenzie MacEachern later combined to make it 2-0. MacEachern started the play when he batted a loose puck with his backhand from the center ice dot ahead to Cox, sending him in all alone on Schierhorn. Cox deked to his backhand, then went forehand and slid the puck easily into the net past a sprawled Schierhorn.
The Spartans pushed their lead to 4-0 with a pair of second-period goals from Haag. His first came on the power-play 3:14 into the middle stanza.
After a shot by Travis Walsh, Haag corralled the puck on the left side and curled from the boards toward the net, waited patiently and then ripped a shot over Schierhorn’s shoulder on the short side.
Haag got his second when he finished off a pretty tic-tac-toe play with linemates DeBlouw and JT Stenglein. Stenglein got the puck to Haag in the neutral zone, who then gave it to DeBlouw on the right side entering the Gopher zone. DeBlouw lifted perfect cross-ice pass to Haag who was driving the net where he extended his stick with one hand and deflected the puck into the net.
“It was nice to see the puck go in for Villiam because that will increase his confidence,” said Anastos. “I liked when he went to the net and got rewarded for it.”
The Spartans killed three Gopher power plays in the third period, including a 5-minute major.
“Guys dug a little deeper and I think we’ve been getting better each week (on the penalty kill). We did a good job against them tonight,” said Anastos. “Our guys take a lot of pride in it.”
Ferrantino added the final tally when he scored on the power play with 1:13 to play.
The Spartans will close out the regular season next weekend when they host Ohio State on Friday and Saturday at Munn Ice Arena. Puck drop is at 7 p.m. both nights.