Penn State entered Sunday’s matchup with Minnesota with a chance to make some history, beyond the milestones the team has already reached in recent years. In the four-year history of Big Ten hockey, no conference opponent has gone to the 3M Arena At Mariucci and returned home with a sweep over the Golden Gophers.
Brannon McManus helped the Gophers make sure the Lions wouldn’t be the first team to do so. The freshman forward recorded the first three goals of his collegiate career, recording a hat trick as the No. 7 Gophers topped the No. 11 Lions 6-3, forcing Guy Gadowsky’s squad to settle for a weekend split in Minneapolis.
The Golden Gophers got off to a much quicker start than Friday night, registering their first shot on goal just seven seconds into the contest — their first shot came more than 12 minutes into Friday’s game.
They carried that energy through the remainder of the period, outshooting the Lions 12-9, putting Peyton Jones to the test with a number of quality opportunities. The sophomore netminder remained equal to the challenge, coming up with some extraordinary stops.
Jones could not hold the Gophers off for long, however. With six and a half minutes to go in the period, Casey Mittelstadt redirected a point shot by Jack Glover over Jones’ glove.
With under a minute to play in the opening frame, Brent Gates doubled the Gophers lead.
The Nittany Lions responded early in the second period, however. Andrew Sturtz slipped behind the Gophers’ defense and came in against Eric Schierhorn on a breakaway. Sturtz went to the same move with which he scored Friday night, but hit the post with the backhand shot. The puck rested in the crease, where Alec Marsh knocked it in before any Gopher defensemen could react.
With under five minutes to play in the second period, Sam Rossini — who was making his college hockey debut — put the Gophers back in front by two, firing a quick wrist shot from the slot past Jones.
Not even 40 seconds later, though, Andrew Sturtz cut the Gophers’ lead in half.
While on the power play, Sturtz side stepped a sliding Gophers defenseman. After a delay, the junior forward fired a laser to the top corner of the net for his second goal of the season and 42nd of his Penn State career, putting him just three goals back of Casey Bailey’s program record of 45.
The Gophers responded early in the third period, as the Brannon McManus show got underway. McManus carried the puck into the Penn State zone in a one-on-one. The freshman forward put on the breaks just inside the blue line and used the Lions’ defenseman as a screen as he fired a wrist shot past the glove of Jones, putting the Gophers on top by two once more.
McManus expanded the Gophers lead midway through the period. After receiving a breakout pass from Darian Romanko, McManus meandered through the Penn State zone before ripping a shot over the blocker of Jones.
A few minutes later, the Lions responded on the power play. After Erik Autio fired a shot from the point wide, Denis Smirnov gathered the puck behind the net, wrapping it around and sliding it under the pad of Eric Schierhorn.
The comeback attempt didn’t last long, however, as McManus completed the hat trick with a power play tally with just under four minutes to play, capping off an impressive day for Gopher freshman, who netted five of the team’s six goals.