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Penn State Nittany Lions hockey: Minnesota Series Recap

Over the weekend, Penn State fell short against No. 2 Minnesota.



Penn State Nittany Lions hockey
Mar 14, 2021; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Penn State's Evan Bell (7) looks to shoot against Note Dame at the Compton Family Ice Arena. Mandatory Credit: Michael Caterina/South Bend Tribune-USA TODAY NETWORK

Over the weekend, there was a massive, top-7 matchup at Pegula Ice Arena in State College, PA. The 7th-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions hockey team and 2nd-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers were set to do battle in a huge matchup — it was an incredible opportunity for Penn State, though the Lions fell just short all said and done.

Penn State Nittany Lions Hockey Had Huge Opportunity

Penn State’s penultimate home weekend against No. 2 Minnesota sent fans home disappointed. Losing 7-2 and 3-2, it looks dire heading into the Big Ten tournament in two weeks.

Though the Nittany Lions entered the weekend sixth-place in the Big Ten, the Pairwise rankings had them at No. 5… in the nation. Only one team was ahead of them from the Big Ten: Minnesota.

For those unfamiliar, the Pairwise is a computer algorithm that ranks college hockey teams and serves as the sole determinant of NCAA tournament selection and seeding. It is somewhat similar to how the Bowl Championship Series used to use a computer model to determine bowl games in college football. 

That disparity put Penn State in a weird position headed into this weekend. They could do a lot to help their cause in the Big Ten standings, perhaps even moving into a position where they would host a round of the Big Ten Tournament. 

But, there wasn’t much they could do nationally. Even a sweep of the Golden Gophers would have only moved the Lions up two spots to No. 3. That is to say, this weekend held far more weight within the Big Ten than it did nationally. 

And for Minnesota it meant nothing. On Thursday night, they clinched the Big Ten regular season title for the second straight year when Ohio State beat Michigan in a shootout. 

Penn State Embarrassed In Game One

All the intangibles may have favored Penn State (19-12-1, 9-12-1 B1G) headed into Friday night’s game. They were playing in front of a standing-room only crowd at home, after a week off, against a team that didn’t have much left to play for in the regular season. But it didn’t play out the way those intangibles would have suggested.

Early in the game, Penn State had some developing odd-man rushes that would have led to scoring opportunities, but multiple errant passes negated those chances. That would become a theme on Friday for the Lions. Minnesota (23-8-1, 17-4-1 B1G) wasted no time capitalizing on Penn State’s mistakes, scoring just over six minutes into the game off a chance generated by poor rebound control from G Liam Souliere. The Gophers would add another goal late in the period. Coach Guy Gadowsky was not pleased with his team’s play in the first period.

“We were not prepared to play our game,” Gadowsky said. “And it snowballed pretty quickly.”

Things would only get worse for Penn State from there. Minnesota would add another goal less than a minute into the second period. Just two minutes later, they would tack on their fourth of the night. This prompted Gadowsky to pull Liam Souliere in favor of backup G Noah Grannon. Gadowsky made the move with hopes to give his team a spark.

“There’s not a lot of things that you can do to jolt a team. That’s one of them,” Gadowsky said. “And that’s what we did.”

It didn’t work as he planned. Shortly after the change, Penn State took two ill-advised penalties. One of those was a rather obscure call for face masking, which resulted in a five minute major after a lengthy review. Minnesota was given a full two minutes of five-on-three. They barely needed it. It took all of 13 seconds on the two-man advantage for Minnesota to net their fifth goal. Minnesota’s lethal power play unit added another one later in the major penalty.

Penn State would get their first goal of the night when LW Christian Sarlo tipped one past Minnesota G Justin Close. This was the junior’s seventh tally of the year, which is good for fourth-most on the team.

Minnesota would quickly get it right back when C Logan Cooley scored on a breakaway. The Minnesota freshman is a Pennsylvania native who was heavily recruited by Penn State. In his first career game at Pegula, he had a five point night. He was the first player in the Big Ten to have a five point game this season, and he did it all before the second period came to a close. 

The third period would not feature much action, with the Gophers content to take their foot off the gas up by six goals. Penn State would add a late goal on an RW Ashton Calder shot that beat Minnesota backup goalie Owen Bartoszkiewicz, but it was just window dressing to get to the final score of 7-2.

This was one of the uglier nights for Penn State not only this season, but at Pegula in a while. It is rare to see Penn State get run off their home like they did Friday night. Goaltending concerns reared their ugly heads again for Penn State. Souliere allowed four goals on 12 shots, while Grannon allowed three goals on 16 shots. That means Minnesota capitalized on an absurd 25% of their 28 shots. 

Nittany Lions Fight In Game Two, Yet Fall Short Again

In college hockey, no matter how bad your Friday night is, you know you’ll get another crack at the same team the next night. That is the approach that Penn State took after Friday’s loss. 

“That’s the beauty of college hockey that we get to go right back at the same guys less than 24 hours,” Christian Sarlo said after Friday’s lopsided result. 

Penn State wanted to wash the taste of Friday out of their mouths anyway they could, even in purely superstitious ways. They took to the ice wearing their so-called “Wear White” alternate jerseys, which were only supposed to be worn for the “Wear White” game against Notre Dame last month, which resulted in a 3-2 victory for Penn State.

Penn State responded just about as well as they possibly could have. On the Lions first shot, 29 seconds in, C Ture Linden sniped home his eight of the year. It was in-and-out of the net so fast, it required a review to make sure it fully crossed the line. Penn State continued to control the pace throughout the first, outshooting the Gophers 10-6 at the first intermission. 

The tide turned in the second period, however. Minnesota was able to generate a lot of odd-man rushes. They quickly capitalized less than two minutes into the second period to tie the game. They continued to dominate play for the rest of the period, but Souliere’s strong play kept the game even. Gadowsky thought that Minnesota had the advantage in the period of the long change. 

“The longer change hurt us because we seemed to get caught from behind a few times,” Gadowsky said.

The third period featured a lot of back-and-forth action, but the goaltenders stood strong for most of the period. With just over two minutes left in regulation, LW Danny Dzhaniyev had a nifty move to sneak the puck into the net and give Penn State the lead. It seemed as though that would be enough for Penn State to get a victory. But Minnesota was able to tie the game with the extra-attacker. 

The game went to overtime, and Penn State was never really able to control possession. LW Matthew Knies, who scored the late tying goal, won the game in the extra session for Minnesota. Logan Cooley picked up an assist on the game-winner, leaving him with a six point weekend in his return to his home state. In a weekend where six points were available for Penn State, they ended up with just one.

What’s Next For Penn State Nittany Lions Hockey?

Penn State has just two regular season games remaining, next weekend vs. Wisconsin at Pegula Ice Arena. These games will be monumental in the Big Ten standings.

“Must wins,” Ture Linden called them.

Penn State finished the weekend in fifth in the Big Ten standings, meaning they are currently not in a position to host any games in the Big Ten Tournament. However, the standings are packed so tightly that the Nittany Lions can finish anywhere from second place to fifth place depending on next weekend’s results. 

Despite the poor results this weekend, Penn State’s spot in the NCAA tournament is still all but assured. The team knows they are going to have to play better with the postseason looming. The team’s leader has no doubt they will be up to the task. 

“Come playoffs, I’m not worried about anyone,” said captain Paul DeNaples.

Penn State wraps up the regular season with a two-game set against Wisconsin at Pegula Ice Arena. The puck will drop at 7:00 p.m. on Friday and 5:00 p.m. on Saturday.

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Jaret is a Penn State alum who covers Penn State sports for Basic Blues Nation. He is very passionate about the Nittany Lions and loves sharing his passion for the school through writing.


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