Penn State was ready to go in its first conference game of the season. Facing the favorite to win the Big Ten regular-season title, on the road, the young Lions showed that they can play with any team, anywhere.
Peyton Jones is one of the best goalies in the country and he made some highlight-reel saves along the way to his second win of the season. Three different Penn State players scored goals, and it was a complete team effort on defense as well.
The Lions have never looked so comfortable playing on the larger sheet of ice inside Mariucci Arena. From the first drop of the puck it was clear that Guy Gadowsky’s team had its game plan straight and was ready to execute.
The teams will face off for the series finale on Sunday at 4 p.m. The game will be televised on Fox Sports North and is available via live video stream on BTN2GO.com.
A little under two minutes into the game Penn State defenseman Trevor Hamilton took an open shot from the point and hit the crossbar. It was the best scoring chance for either team for the first ten minutes of the game. The teams skated fast, with crisp passing, but each side had discipline on defense, not allowing scoring chances. The Lions held the lead in shots 4-0 after ten minutes.
With 7:46 remaining in the period a collision into goalie Eric Schierhorn cost each team some time in the penalty box. James Robinson collided with Schierhorn and then after the play Jack Sadek got two minutes in the box for roughing Robinson. The teams exchanged some words following the play but calmer heads prevailed.
The Gophers went on the power-play since Robinson was hit with a double-minor penalty. Immediately after the puck was dropped, Minnesota was called for another penalty, negating the power play after just a matter of seconds.
The teams skated 4 on 4 until Nate Sucese was called for hooking, giving Minnesota a 4-3 advantage. Andrew Sturtz scored just as all the penalties expired to give the Lions a 1-0 lead with five minutes to go in the first. Sturtz out-hustled the Gopher defense to the puck and then finished past one of the best goalies in the country.
Early in the second period the Lions went on the power-play and it didn’t take long for Denis Smirnov to make it count. Smirnov took a pass from Erik Autio and finished past Schierhorn for a Penn State 2-1 lead. This is the best of both players; Autio is a great setup man from the blue line and if you leave Smirnov this wide open, well, it’s not going to be a happy ending for the opposing team.
Penn State went on a power-play once again five minutes later when Rem Pitlick ran into Peyton Jones. During the penalty James Gobetz was hit very hard and sent to the boards, forcing a stoppage in play while the Lions were in the offensive zone as Gobetz was unable to get up. Leon Bristedt was sent to the penalty box with a five-minute checking from behind major penalty and a game misconduct for the hit.
Just as the two-man advantage expired, the Lions scored when Nikita Pavlychev finished a pass out in front from Cole Hults. It’s nice to see the 6’7” Pavlychev camped out in front of the net, using his size and skill to score at a critical moment. Hults is a freshman scoring-minded defenseman, and he showed that his hands and hockey IQ are well beyond his academic years.
The power-play went on for four more minutes and while the Lions were not able to add another goal, the team was able to use the man advantage to hold the puck, keeping Minnesota away from scoring.
Late in the period with the Gophers on a power-play, Peyton Jones made a great save to preserve the three goal lead with his stick. Nate Sucese turned the puck over in the defensive zone, which led to this quick play that left Jones no choice but to foul the puck off down the first base line, like a baseball hitter wasting a great pitch and living to fight another day.
The final period began with both sides skating well and hitting very hard. With just over eleven minutes to play Minnesota scored to cut the lead to 3-1. Ryan Norman got the goal past Peyton Jones. For the next few minutes the Gophers pulled out all the stops, trying to get within one goal of tying the game. The Lions were equal to the task, playing a solid game on both sides of the ice.
With just under two minutes to play Minnesota pulled goalie Eric Schierhorn and called timeout. Penn State was able to hold on for the win, weathering a few scoring chances in the final minute.
Stars of the Game
First Star- Peyton Jones, Penn State. 20 saves and a win.
Second Star- Denis Smirnov, Penn State. 1 goal, 1 assist.
Third Star- Rem Pitlick, Minnesota. Pitlick didn’t score any points, but he was a constant menace on the ice tonight. With captain Ryan Sheehy out with injury, Pitlick showed that he can pick up the slack.