Earlier this week, coach Guy Gadowsky touched on the importance of Penn State’s bye week and how the team used a weekend free of the rigors of game action to recharge its batteries for the stretch run of the season.
When the puck dropped on Friday night’s tilt against Minnesota, the impact of that rest was on full display.
The Nittany Lions outhustled, outskated and outworked the Golden Gophers en route to a 7-2 victory.
In recent weeks, the Nittany Lions had become prone to starting games slow and falling behind the eight ball early. On Friday, they roared out of the gates. Mere seconds into the contest, Chase Berger found a loose puck and fired a shot short side that rang off the post, setting the tone for the offensive explosion that followed over the first two periods.
Liam Folkes opened the scoring just two and a half minutes into the action and forced a goaltending change just 13 minutes into the game. The Nittany Lions added a pair midway through the period as Golden Gophers’ goalie Matt Robson saw his night end after just 13 minutes.
Penn State doubled its goal output during the second period as they comfortably carried a five-goal lead into the third period.
While a number of Penn State’s goals were the result of pretty passing plays, captain Chase Berger felt the team stuck to a simple game plan and were simply rewarded for their efforts.
“I think it looks pretty when we do the right stuff all the time, because then it opens up pretty plays,” he said. “I didn’t think we were extra fancy. I think when we try to get fancy, we aren’t good.”
Berger’s line led the charge tonight as they combined for two goals and eight points. Alternate captain Brandon Biro appeared particularly flashy as he notched a goal and two assists. While his slick goal in garbage time belongs on the highlight reel, his two helpers were even more impressive.
In both instances, Biro outwaited virtually everyone in the building before sliding a pass through for tap-in goals from Cole Hults and Berger.
“Brandon Biro was awesome. He was the best player on the ice,” Gadowsky said. “I don’t just say that because of the beautiful plays he made.”
Gadowsky highlighted Biro’s efforts in the offensive zone, where his forechecking forced the Golden Gophers to make quick decisions that ultimately led to turnovers and even more attacking time for Penn State.
While Berger’s line stole the show, the usual suspects on Gadowsky’s most potent line also racked up the points. The trio of Alex Limoges, Evan Barratt and Liam Folkes combined for three goals and six points, continuing a dominant season that has Limoges and Barratt in the Hobey Baker Award conversation.
“They just have a great time,” Gadowsky said of what has led to that line’s success. “That’s the best I can explain it.”
Friday’s win also continued a recent trend of dominance over the Golden Gophers. In the team’s early years of Division-I play, the Nittany Lions went 3-13 against Minnesota. Since then, they have won eight out of ten, including six of the last seven and five straight at home.
There may be no clear reason for Penn State’s dominance over one of college hockey’s most storied programs. Regardless, the Nittany Lions try not to view the Golden Gophers in a different light than the rest of the country.
“We’re confident with whoever we go against,” Biro said. “Some teams, I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the way they look at us. We try to treat everyone the same.”
How It Happened
The Nittany Lions came out flying and opened the scoring just two and half minutes into the contest. Off an offensive zone draw, Kevin Kerr fired a pass to Liam Folkes, who parked himself in front of Golden Gophers’ goalie Matt Robson. Robson made a pair of stops before Folkes backhanded the puck into the net.
The Golden Gophers pushed back with sustained possession — though few chances — in the attacking zone. Midway through the period, however, the Nittany Lions doubled their lead. Paul DeNaples forced a turnover in the neutral zone and nudged the puck ahead to Nate Sucese. On a 2-on-1 with Denis Smirnov, Sucese fired a shot bar down.
Exactly one minute later, Penn State extended its lead to 3-0 and ended Matt Robson’s night early. After Folkes beat out an icing, Alex Limoges flipped the puck into the crease. Chaos ensued as Limoges knocked home his 14th goal of the season.
The Nittany Lions kept up the pressure right from the opening puck drop of the second period. Barely 10 seconds into the middle frame, Sam Sternschein had his point blank chance denied by Schierhorn.
Just under five minutes into the period, the Nittany Lions made it a four-goal game. After extended time in the attacking zone, Brandon Brio gathered the puck near the boards. Biro outwaited everyone as he fed Cole Hults at the back door for a tap in goal.
Midway through the period, Biro set up another teammate for a tap in goal to make it a five-goal contest. Chase Berger finished off a tic-tac-toe play after some extraordinary puck movement.
The Golden Gophers responded a little less than two minutes later. On their third power play of the night, Tyler Sheehy fired a shot over Peyton Jones’ shoulder and into the top corner of the net.
Late in the period, the Nittany Lions countered with a power play goal of their own. On their first man advantage of the evening, Limoges redirected Kevin Kerr’s point shot. Schierhorn made the initial save, but Limoges slid home the rebound for his second goal of the night.
The Golden Gophers started the third period on the right foot. Just 19 seconds into the final frame, Tyler Sheehy worked his way toward the slot and fired a shot short side on Jones.
The Nittany Lions shut the Golden Gophers down the rest of the way and added a seventh tally with time winding down. After receiving a pass from Berger, Biro quickly brought the puck across the crease and backhanded a shot past Schierhorn before the Gophers’ goalie knew what happened.