MINNEAPOLIS — In terms of making your debut on a big stage, Drew DeRidder’s first weekend appearance between the pipes for Michigan State in front of a big crowd inside 3M Arena at Mariucci was a memorable one, for reasons both good and bad.

More than two years ago, DeRidder — then a highly-touted freshman who had come to the Spartans after sporting a 15-0-0 record as a starter in the United States Hockey League while playing for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program — got his first start versus the Minnesota Gophers in their home rink on the day after Thanksgiving 2018.

As they say on Broadway, the opening act was a flop.

“If I remember right, I got pulled after two goals, then I came back in the third. I thought I did pretty well in the third,” DeRidder recalled this week. “Then I came back the next night and played well. That was actually my first college win, so no bad memories at all.

Indeed, his initial start in Minneapolis lasted less than four minutes, with the Gophers getting goals from Rem Pitlick and Tyler Sheehy on their first two shots of what would be a 7-2 win by the home team. In a vote of confidence for his young netminder, Spartans coach Danton Cole put DeRidder back in the game to start the third period that night, then started him again in the Saturday night rematch, won by Michigan State 4-2 when DeRidder had 28 saves — 16 of them in the third period.

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Those high save numbers for DeRidder, who has started all 20 of the Spartans’ games this season, have been a trend. Michigan State is averaging 1.74 goals-per-game, 50th out of 51 NCAA Division I teams. That's been a big part of the 7-11-2 record the Spartans bring to Minneapolis for this weekend’s two-game series vs. the Gophers, which puts even more emphasis on the need for solid goaltending.

“They’re a big, heavy, strong team, and DeRidder is definitely the backbone of their group,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said this week. “He can be so darn good, and we have to be on top of our game.”

While the offense is struggling, the undrafted 20-year-old DeRidder is having the best season of his three-year college career. He leads the nation in saves (632) and shots faced (678) and his career-best .932 save percentage is 13th in the nation. The Spartans have played seven games decided by one goal and in five overtime games.

The Gophers swept a pair of games in East Lansing, Mich., earlier in the season, winning 3-1 and 4-2 on Dec. 3-4, but neither Minnesota nor Michigan State seems to be putting much emphasis on what they experienced then. Both teams have changed and in the case of the Spartans, DeRidder’s ability to put negative results in the past (Michigan State has won just twice in its last eight games) and focus on the next game, the next shift, the next shot has been a difference-maker.

“To be a good goalie, you kind of have to have a short memory or no conscience where you just forget about it right away,” Spartans coach Danton Cole said. “He’s able to get over those situations. Hey, it happens to everybody...We haven’t been scoring a lot of goals, that’s just a fact, and that puts a little pressure on him. But he’s done a good job handling that.”

The Gophers (17-5-0) are coming off perhaps their most complete weekend of the season, having won 3-0, twice, at Notre Dame and (coupled with a Wisconsin split at Michigan) moving back into the top spot in the Big Ten with a half-dozen regular season games to play.

Goalie Jack LaFontaine was named the conference’s Player of the Week for the first back-to-back road shutouts in the modern era of Gopher hockey. Meeting with the media this week, the Gophers players noted nothing has been won, yet, and the near-perfect weekend at Notre Dame is just a step toward bigger long-term goals.

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“We’ve just got to keep building. Obviously that was a good weekend for our team as a group, and obviously for our goalie,” said Gophers defenseman Matt Staudacher, who hails from the same town (Fenton, Mich.) as DeRidder. “We’ve just got to keep building on it. We’ve got to go back, fix some things that we missed and keep building on the things we did well.”

If recent history is a guide, getting many, many pucks on the Spartans net and their high-workload goalie will be one of those keys to the weekend.

Spartans series notes:

  • In a rivalry that dates back to Jan. 20, 1950 (an 8-2 Gophers win in East Lansing), Minnesota leads the all-time series versus the Spartans 122-50-16. The Gophers lead 7-2-1 in the last 10 games played in Minneapolis.

  • Among the seven teams in the Big Ten hockey league, Michigan State’s 2007 NCAA title is the most recent national championship won by any of them. At the Frozen Four played in St. Louis, the Spartans scored twice in the final minute to upset Boston College 3-1, making coach Rick Comley one of only two men to win NCAA titles at two college hockey schools (he also coached Northern Michigan to the 1991 NCAA crown).
  • Friday’s game starts at 7 p.m. CT, with the Saturday rematch facing off at 5 p.m. CT. The Gophers radio broadcast with Wally Shaver and Frank Mazzocco is on 1130 AM/103.5 FM. Friday’s game will be televised by Fox Sport North Plus with Anthony LaPanta and Ben Clymer on the call, while Saturday’s game will be carried by Fox Sports North with Charlie Beattie doing play-by-play and Clymer providing analysis.

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