It was a solid performance for the Penn State hockey team on opening night. It’s always tough to play in Mariucci Arena and with the Gophers fielding what may be the best team in the Big Ten, it was an uphill battle. In college hockey a split series on the road is considered a series win most of the time so Guy Gadowsky’s squad will have a lot to play for on Friday.
Both sides skated tentatively through the first period looking as though they did not want to give up the first goal. The game was much more fluid in the second period but Minnesota ultimately benefited, scoring the first two goals of the game in the opening ten minutes.
Penn State answered with a goal late in the second period by Kevin Wall but the Gophers scored early in the final period to regain a two-goal lead. Sampo Ranta added a goal on a great individual play to extend the lead to 4-1.
The teams will play game two of the series on Friday at 4 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.
How It Happened
The Gophers went on the power play five minutes into the game with a 2-1 shots on goal advantage at the time. The Lions allowed just one shot, killing the penalty with ease. Sophomore goalie Oskar Autio made a nice save when Minnesota had a clean 2 on 1 break a few minutes later. Autio is the heir apparent to four-year starter Peyton Jones and he looked comfortable early.
The Lions had a flurry of shots with 7:30 left to play before the first intermission to even the shots on goal at 5 apiece. Each team also had 5 blocks at that point so it wasn’t for lack of shooting, it was more due to hustle that there were so few shots on net.
Sam Sternschein powered his way to the front of the net and the 6-foot-2 senior got a holding penalty call on the Gophers. The Lions controlled the puck for most of the advantage and got a few good scoring chances but were unable to find the back of the net. After getting off to a slow start, Guy Gadowsky’s team was able to get it going in the second half of the period and the teams were tied with 8 shots apiece at the break.
The only differentiating statistic through 20 minutes was a ridiculous 14-3 face-off advantage for Minnesota. Oskar Autio made another great save at the end of the period to keep it a scoreless tie.
Just two minutes into the second period Autio was challenged again when a puck went off the post and then he was forced to make a save off the rebound. The Gophers finally broke through when a scramble in front of the net led to an open shot for Jonny Sorenson.
The Lions came right back, putting pressure on goalie Jack LaFontaine, forcing him to make a few saves. Tim Doherty, a graduate transfer from the University of Maine, centered the first line with Alex Limoges and Sam Sternschein. Doherty showed a great deal of skill on a give and go with Limoges that led to a quality shot midway through the game.
Moments later Minnesota took a 2-0 lead when the puck again bounced in front of Autio for a few seconds before Scott Reedy smashed it into the net. Penn State put a great deal of pressure on the Gophers in the minutes following the second goal. Alex Limoges found Doherty in front of the net for a one-timer but LaFontaine made the save. The Lions led 18-14 in shots on goal with 6:29 to go before the second intermission.
Sampo Ranta had an open shot with a minute on the clock and Minnesota almost added to their lead. Moments later Kevin Wall broke the ice for Penn State, cutting the lead in half.
The Gophers tried to answer the score but when they were unable, it seemed like the entire team was dejected, having nearly dominated the period.
Oskar Autio was forced to make a few tough saves early in the final period. Finally the puck slid just inches across the goal line before he could cover it and Minnesota had a 3-1 lead with 16 minutes to play.
Christian Berger was slow getting back on defense and Sampo Ranta made him pay, sneaking a fourth goal past Autio. Berger, a defensemen, played well in his collegiate debut but he was surprised by Ranta’s burst of speed. It was a tough lesson to learn on a large sheet of ice. The play was reviewed and initially the goal was overturned but then the referees overturned the call to overturn it. It was a swing of emotions for Penn State and the team didn’t seem to recover from it, trailing by 3 goals once the dust settled.
Guy Gadowsky pulled Autio for the extra skater with well over 6 minutes to play. After a Minnesota penalty Autio stayed on the bench to give PSU a 6-4 skater advantage. With 3:41 to go the Lions took a penalty, ending hopes of making a comeback. Autio came back into the game and the teams skated 4 on 4.
- It was just one game but it appears that Penn State is going to play a more balanced attack than it has in recent years. The shots on goal tally was lower than normal and due to the larger sheet of ice, that could be meaningless. In watching the game it seemed as though the team was playing with more attention to defense than they had in the past.
- Tim Doherty and Christian Sarlo showed a great deal of skill though they did not produce in the scorebook. There are a lot of new faces on the Penn State team and it is clear that the overall talent level is on par with what we have seen in Hockey Valley for the past few seasons.
- It was a very clean game considering that there were no non-conference warm-up games this time around. Five penalties combined wasn’t much of a distraction and the refs kept the game moving. It is a point of emphasis to get the games in quickly this year, with the goal being to have each contest finished in close to two hours. The game took 2 hours and 5 minutes and while there were no fans in the stands, fans watching at home are better for it. Shorter intermission breaks and a crisper tempo makes for a more entertaining watch.