Penn State has never had trouble filling the net. The Nittany Lions routinely rank among the best in the nation in goals scored.
That offensive power comes at a cost, however, as opposing teams have seldom had trouble filling the Nittany Lions’ net.
Improved defensive play has been a point of emphasis for coach Guy Gadowsky throughout the season. Though his team has been able to limit odd-man rushes, it has somehow given up more goals per game this year than last season.
It seemed the Nittany Lions just needed one weekend where it all came together in their own zone to build confidence in their defensive abilities. A weekend sweep against Minnesota may just do the trick.
The Nittany Lions capped off back-to-back wins over the Golden Gophers with a 6-2 victory on Saturday. While the 13 goals scored in two games is an impressive mark, perhaps even more important is that they allowed just four goals against and 50 shots total to the Golden Gophers.
Though impressed with the results, Gadowsky isn’t completely settled.
“We’re happy. We’re not there yet, by any means. But I think we’ve taken positive steps,” he said following the game. “You never check that box. You always have to get back and prove it every night. We’re looking forward to see if we can the next game.”
Early in the contest, it appeared the Nittany Lions were in for another brutal defensive outing. Just 58 seconds in, Brent Gates Jr. finished off a give-and-go with Rem Pitlick on the game’s first shot.
Gadowsky checked in with Director of Hockey Operations Alex Dawes to see if he should challenge the goal for too many men on the ice, setting off one of the stranger series of events this season.
Dawes’ affirmation proved fruitful for Penn State. Gates’ goal was disallowed and just moments later, Nate Sucese opened the scoring with a breakaway goal on the first counted shot of the game.
Sucese added another minutes later, but Minnesota coach Bob Motzko also challenged for too many men on the ice. The call benefitted the Golden Gophers, keeping the game within a goal before Gates tied it up with under five minutes to play in the first.
“It’s interesting that two big plays like that happened so close together and yet, we haven’t really seen it all year,” Gadowsky said. “If you’re new and you watch this hockey game, you’d think that would happen all the time.”
The coach’s challenges didn’t end there. Late in the third period, with the Nittany Lions holding a 6-2 lead, the Golden Gophers trimmed the lead to three as Nathan Burke tipped a pass through the legs of Peyton Jones. Gadowsky won another challenge as the play was offsides at the Penn State blue line.
Despite the comfortable score line, Gadowsky didn’t hesitate in challenging the play.
“We were going to [challenge] no matter what,” Gadowsky said. “Against a team with firepower like that, any chance we had [to keep the lead].”
How It Happened
The Golden Gophers got out to a much better start than Friday night and appeared to take an early lead as Brent Gates Jr. finished off a give-and-go with Rem Pitlick just 58 seconds into the game. Gadowsky used his coach’s challenge and it was determined the Golden Gophers had too many men on the ice, keeping the game scoreless.
Barely a minute later, the Nittany Lions used the momentum of that disallowed goal to open the scoring. Nate Sucese picked up the puck in the neutral zone and charged ahead on a breakaway. Sucese slid the puck through the legs of Matt Robson to give the Nittany Lions the lead on the first shot of the game.
A short time later, the Nittany Lions were on the wrong end of another coach’s challenge. Sucese appeared to pick up his second goal of the game as he finished off a give-and-go with Alex Limoges. Golden Gophers coach Bob Motzko used his challenge, with replay showing Penn State also had too many men on the ice.
With under five minutes to play in the first, Gates put his name on the score sheet for real. After his shot was blocked to the corner, Pitlick fed the puck right back to him. Gates one timed a shot into an open cage as Peyton Jones tried to recover.
After a largely quiet second period, the flood gates opened as the two sides combined for three goals in a little more than two minutes.
Sammy Walker put the Golden Gophers in front as he fired a wrist shot from the slot past the blocker of Jones.
Just 58 seconds later, Alex Limoges knotted the game at two with a power play goal. After Robson robbed Liam Folkes on the door step, Limoges found a loose puck and rolled a shot past Robson.
A minute and ten seconds later, Brandon Biro put the Nittany Lions back on top, lifting a rebound into the top corner.
Early in the third period, the Nittany Lions converted on another power play. With the man advantage winding down, Ludvig Larsson’s shot from the slot was blocked down by a Golden Gopher. Before Robson could cover the puck, Nikita Pavlychev used his long reach to pull it away from the netminder and tuck it into the net.
A few minutes later, Chase Berger put the game out of reach. After Robson made a spectacular save on Alec Marsh, Berger swatted a rebound from the slot under the crossbar to give Penn State a three-goal lead.
With under five minutes to play, Sucese picked up his second of the game. Sucese picked up a stretch pass in the neutral zone and skated in against a pair of Golden Gophers defensemen. The junior forward danced through the crowd and rifled a shot off the post and in.