After finishing a six-game homestand, the No. 9 Minnesota men’s hockey team hits the road for the first time since early December when it travels to No. 8/7 Michigan State in a top-10 battle Jan. 26-27 at Munn Ice Arena.

The series against the Big Ten Conference-leading Spartans begins Friday at 5 p.m. (CT) streaming on B1G+ before continuing Saturday at 3 p.m. (CT) live on Big Ten Network and the Fox Sports app. Fans also can tune into an audio broadcast on the Gopher Radio Network 1130 KTLK-AM/103.5 FM with Wally Shaver and Frank Mazzocco.

The Gophers scored eight times in the sweep over Robert Morris last weekend and did so thanks to eight different goal scorers. The next weekend against Ohio State, Minnesota did something similar as eight players recorded at least one of the team’s 11 goals during the series sweep. It is the most goal scorers in a single series this season, one more than the seven that had a tally against Minnesota Duluth (Nov. 3-4). The eight scorers versus the Colonials were just the third time all season where every goal during a series came from the stick of a different player. In total, 17 separate skaters have scored a goal for the Maroon and Gold this year, including all forwards with four that have reached double digits in Jimmy Snuggerud (17), Rhett Pitlick (15), Bryce Brodzinski (12) and Brody Lamb (10).

The Gophers are averaging 4.7 goals per game in their 14 victories and scored four or more times in 13 of the 14 wins but have been held to just 2.3 goals per game across six losses during the 2023-24 campaign. A major difference for Minnesota is the power play as it holds a 32.7 percent (16-of-49) success rate when winning, compared to a 13.3 (2-of-15) rate in setbacks. The Maroon and Gold also average just 6.2 minutes in the penalty box per game in victories, while spending 10 minutes per game in the penalty box during losses.

For the third time this season, Rhett Pitlick was chosen as the Big Ten Conference Second Star of the Week (Jan. 23, Dec. 5, Nov. 7) thanks to the second five-point series of his career and is the only B1G skater with three weekly honors in 2023-24. He posted his first collegiate hat trick and added an assist during a career-best, four-point night to open the weekend versus Ohio State (Jan. 19) and tacked on his fourth goal Saturday night. The junior also had five points during an early December split at No. 18 Penn State, contributing to five of the team’s seven total goals. Pitlick had the NCAA’s longest goal streak this season when he scored in seven-straight outings from Nov. 17 to Dec. 8, while his 14 goals in the last 14 games is two more than any other skater in the nation during that stretch. His 19 points in 14 league outings leads all B1G skaters, while he is the only player to reach double-digit goals with 12 in conference-only matchups.

Freshman Sam Rinzel continues to help drive Minnesota’s offense early in his career and leads the team in assists with 22 following career-best, three-assist efforts three times in a four-game span against Colorado College (Jan. 8), Robert Morris (Jan. 12), and Ohio State (Jan. 19). He added his fourth point of the weekend versus the Colonials (Jan. 13), which helped the newcomer land the first Big Ten Conference weekly award of his career when he was named the Third Star of the Week (Jan. 16). After scoring his first collegiate goal at Penn State (Dec. 1), he became the Gophers’ first defenseman to reach double-digit points this season. Rinzel has seven multi-assist performances overall thanks to a five-point series against Ohio State where he extended his career-best scoring streak to five games, totaling 12 assists and a plus-10 rating during that streak. The Chanhassen, Minn., native is second in the national rankings in assists by a freshman defenseman and eighth in the NCAA for total assists.

Despite holding a third-period lead in both games at home, Minnesota picked up only three of six B1G points against Michigan State during its series in late November with a shootout loss and an overtime victory. The Gophers are 135-50-17 (.710) in the all-time series versus the Spartans and are unbeaten (15-0-1) in the last 16 meetings dating back to February 2020. Bryce Brodzinski paced the offense against MSU, recording three goals and two assists thanks to his second-career, four-point performance in the series finale. Connor Kurth and Rhett Pitlick each had multi-goal efforts and the Gophers scored four power-play goals in 10 chances, while Jimmy Clark tallied his first collegiate game-winning goal with the overtime marker Nov. 26.

The Spartans extended their lead in the Big Ten Conference standings during a chaotic split against rival Michigan last weekend where the teams combined for 178 total penalty minutes in the series, 168 of which came during the opening game. Michigan State enters the top-10 matchup this weekend with a 9-1-1 record at Munn Ice Arena. They boast the nation’s third-ranked scoring offense, averaging 4.3 goals per game, and have been held to two or fewer goals just three times in 24 outings this year. Conversely, the team is 41st in the NCAA for scoring defense as it allows more than three goals per game. Joey Larson paces the team with 15 goals and 28 points as one of six Spartans to reach 20 or more points this season. Goaltender Trey Augustine has started 21 of 24 MSU games and posted a 14-4-2 record, while his goals-against average sits at 3.12 with a .912 save percentage.

(info and photo courtesy of Gopher Sports)

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