Penn State (8-2) continues to climb in the national and conference rankings with another solid performance, this time in a very tough road environment. It’s never easy to play Minnesota on their larger than normal sheet of ice, in front of their supportive fans. Guy Gadowsky’s team appeared to feel right at home.
The Lions will remain in the top-10 in both the USCHO poll and also the PairWise Rankings. A second win this weekend could push them into the top-5. With 12 points in conference play, the Lions are in first place in the early-going.
The teams will play game two of the series on Saturday night at 8 p.m.
How It Happened
After facing a Michigan State team that compressed back into their defensive zone, blocking shots, it was a breath of fresh air to see pucks sailing clean to the goalie. With the open ice of the larger skating surface of Mariucci Arena providing a chance for the Lions to spread out, it was much easier for Guy Gadowsky’s team to get the puck up the ice.
Through the first five minutes it was 9-0 in shots on goal, with Penn State dominating play. At times it looked as though it was a power play. Puck possession and shots evened out over the next ten minutes with the Lions holding a 12-3 advantage. There were no penalties and only a few whistles to break the action.
The Gophers had a 2 on 1 but Paul DeNaples was able to block the centering pass to keep Peyton Jones from having to face a shot.
Nikita Pavlychev took a hard hit with two minutes to play in the opening period, remaining on the ice for a couple of minutes. He seemed to be favoring his right leg as he went to the locker room, which twisted awkwardly underneath him as he went to the ice.
Peyton Jones made a great save a minute later to keep the Gophers off the board and then faced a flurry of shots the next trip down the ice. By the end of the period it was 16-11 with the Lions having an edge in shots, but the game was even on the ice. Minnesota had 4 blocks to Penn State’s 2. Faceoffs were 13-9 in the Gophers’ favor.
The Lions came right out of the gate after the break on fire. Sam Sternschein started it off with a nice spin move for his 5th goal of the season.
Just a few moments later with the puck in the Lions’ offensive zone, Nate Sucese made a great behind the back pass to Kevin Wall. Wall didn’t panic, though he had not scored a goal in his Penn State career. With a defender closing he made a fake and then a strong backhand finish.
The crowd inside Mariucci Arena began to mumble as the contest seemed to be slipping away. Penn State went on the power play a minute later and it didn’t take long for it to pay off. The puck movement around the boards was sharp. Liam Folkes worked the puck to Clayton Phillips, who took the puck at the point and snapped it to Evan Barratt, who found Alex Limoges. Just like that it was 3-0.
Only five minutes had gone off the clock in the second period and what had been a very competitive game was on the verge of becoming a blowout.
The Gophers settled down by the midpoint of the period but Aarne Talvitie didn’t allow the effort to pay off. After watching Evan Barratt lift and then slap the puck in the net last week, Talvitie did his own version with a puck that was already in the air.
Shots on goal were 34-14 at that point, with the entire stadium feeling the weight of the four-goal deficit. After having a goal waved off for goalie interference, Minnesota got one that counted from Jaxon Nelson to cut the lead to 4-1 with 8 minutes to go before the second intermission.
The Minnesota fans and team came to life with the success and the teams continued to compete very evenly. For the rest of the period the skating and play was sharp but there were no goals for either side.
Penn State didn’t take long to assert themselves in the final period. Liam Folkes took a long, high pass from Evan Barratt and got the fifth goal of the night, all but ending the hopes for a comeback.
Goalie Jack LaFontaine went to the bench for Minnesota but it wasn’t his fault, contrary to what the chants from the stands of the Pegula Ice Arena would have told him had the game been played there. His replacement had little hope on this play by the Lions. Evan Barratt fought for the puck around the boards to keep it in the offensive zone, then stole it as the Gophers were about to clear, found Liam Folkes, who made the extra pass to Alex Limoges.
To Minnesota’s credit they continued to skate hard though the outcome of the game was no longer in doubt. That didn’t help much when Connor McMenamin won the faceoff clean to Kris Myllari, who snapped the puck toward the goal from just inside the blue line. McMenamin got the tip and the goal.
With a 7-1 lead the Lions took their first penalty. After time expired in the penalty but before the skaters were back in position, Minnesota scored for the second time on the night. Sampo Ranta added the goal for the Gophers and then Sam Sternschein scored his second of the night to give the Lions an 8-2 lead.