No. 11 Penn State Men’s Hockey Wins Conference Opener Over No. 7 Minnesota
No. 11 Penn State men’s hockey (2-1, 1-0 Big Ten) opened conference play with a 3-1 win over No. 7 Minnesota (1-2, 0-1 Big Ten) in its conference opener at Mariucci Arena.
Sophomore Denis Smirnov had a two-point evening for Penn State; he scored the Nittany Lions’ second goal of the game, and added an assist on the third. Junior Andrew Sturtz and sophomore Nikita Pavlychev both scored their first of the season.
Sophomore goalie Peyton Jones was not very busy tonight; he made 20 saves on 21 Golden Gopher shots.
How It Happened
Penn State took charge of tonight’s game early, recording the first four shots on goal of the evening. Among these shots was a Trevor Hamilton chance that rang off the crossbar early on.
The Nittany Lions kept Minnesota off the shot counter until Peyton Jones was forced to make a glove save with 7:55 left in the first period.
The game stayed penalty-free until Minnesota ended up with a 4-on-3 power play midway through the first period. While James Robinson and Nate Sucese sat in the sin-bin, Penn State’s penalty kill stymied the Golden Gopher power play, keeping the game tied at zero.
Andrew Sturtz scored the opening goal of tonight’s game just two seconds after Minnesota’s power play ended, giving the Nittany Lions a 1-0 lead with 4:57 remaining in the period.
Sturtz’s first goal of the season was unassisted, and it was enough to see Penn State enter the first intermission up by one goal.
Instead of sitting back to start the second period, the Nittany Lions stayed on the front foot, and their efforts were rewarded 3:05 into the period. Denis Smirnov scored his second of the season to extend his team’s lead to 2-0.
The power play goal was assisted by Erik Autio and Alex Limoges, and it was a sign of things to come for the remainder of the game.
A sequence midway through the period saw a Golden Gopher ejected and Penn State finding itself with a 5-on-3 power play opportunity for 47 seconds. Minnesota’s Rem Pitlick took a goalie interference penalty at 7:33 of the period, and Leon Bristedt was given five and a game for checking from behind just 1:13 later.
The Nittany Lions found the back of the net on this big opportunity. Nikita Pavlychev found twine to give Penn State a big insurance goal and a 3-0 lead. Assists by Denis Smirnov and Cole Hults set up the big Russian’s first goal of the year.
Minnesota’s high-powered forward group could not find an answer to Peyton Jones & Penn State’s defense for the rest of the period, and the second intermission came with the Golden Gophers trailing by three.
Entering the third period, Penn State set itself up with a huge opportunity to win its first game at Mariucci since the 2015-16 season.
The Nittany Lions held off Minnesota for a good part of the first, but the Gophers found a goal nine minutes into the frame. Ryan Norman broke Peyton Jones’ shutout bid to give Minnesota life entering the home stretch of tonight’s game.
Despite the change in momentum, Penn State responded with a flurry of offensive zone time and chances, something that teams don’t typically do when nursing a late lead.
Despite their best efforts, the Golden Gophers could not even the score, and Penn State picked up its second victory of the young season.
Player Of The Game
Denis Smirnov | Sophomore | Wing
The Russian sensation picked up his second consecutive multi-point game, powering the Nittany Lion offense to a huge away win. He scored the game-winning goal and picked up an assist on Nikita Pavlychev’s goal.
His goal came on the power play, which continues to be a strength for Guy Gadowsky’s squad.
Due to Minnesota’s home football game against Michigan State, Penn State and Minnesota will finish this weekend’s series on Sunday instead of playing tomorrow. Puck drop is at 4 p.m.