Know Your Enemy: Penn State Men’s Hockey vs. No. 2 Minnesota
Penn State men’s hockey picked the perfect time to play at perhaps its best. After dropping game one of the Big Ten quarterfinals, the Nittany Lions needed a win in games two and three if they wanted to keep their season alive.
Backed by stellar goaltending by Liam Souliere and clutch scores from Ryan Kirwan and Dylan Lugris, the Nittany Lions became the first road team to win an opening-round best of three series in Big Ten Tournament history.
Despite the solid showing in Columbus, Penn State faces a whole new test this weekend when it matches up against the second-best team in the country. Here’s what to expect when the Nittany Lions travel to Minneapolis to face Minnesota.
Penn State enters Saturday’s semifinal coming off of a shocking series win in Columbus over No. 12 Ohio State. Minnesota, meanwhile, earned a bye straight to the semifinals after clinching the top seed in the Big Ten. The Golden Gophers enter their matchup against the Nittany Lions on fire after winning eight in a row dating all the way back to late January. In its last five games, Minnesota has outscored opponents 27-6.
The Golden Gophers are led by junior forward Ben Meyers. In 29 games, Meyers led the Golden Gophers with 15 goals and 34 points. Meyers’ stellar season was good enough to be named a finalist for Big Ten Player of the Year.
Another Golden Gopher who earned conference recognition following a strong season was Brock Faber. The defenseman was named a finalist for Big Ten defenseman of the year after a very solid season.
A lot has changed for both programs since the Golden Gophers and Nittany Lions first faced off on November 19. Minnesota was still highly ranked (No. 7) but was considered to be an afterthought to Michigan in the Big Ten. Since then, Minnesota has skyrocketed up the national ranks all the way up to No. 2, including the top seed in the Big Ten tournament.
The first matchup between these teams on November 19 saw the Nittany Lions pull off a stunning 5-3 win over the Golden Gophers. Now-backup goalie Oskar Autio got the start between the pipes, allowing three goals on 35 shots. The win was a big one for Penn State, snapping a four-game losing streak.
The second game of the series went much differently for Penn State. The Golden Gophers downed the Nittany Lions 4-2 aided by a three-goal third period. Autio got his second start in as many days, playing very well up until a third-period defensive collapse.
The two teams met up again later on in the season, this time in State College. Then ranked in the top five, the Golden Gophers pounced Penn State in back-to-back games, outscoring the Nittany Lions 9-5.
Souliere, who will likely draw the start in net in the semifinal game, was very impressive in his first start against the Golden Gophers. The sophomore saved 30 of the 32 shots he faced despite the 3-1 loss.
Needing a win to split the season series, the Nittany Lions offense scored an impressive four goals however it was not enough to overcome one of the worst starts of Oskar Autio’s career. The senior netminder allowed six goals on just 28 shots. It was the last home game of the season for the Nittany Lions.
While the season series didn’t go as expected for Penn State, Saturday’s semifinal game should be a much different story. Souliere, who has been red-hot as of late, is expected to get the start in net for Penn State. If Souliere can play the way he did in his only start against Minnesota this year, the Nittany Lions have a good shot to pull off the upset in Minneapolis.
Keys To The Game
Goaltending was the biggest story for Penn State down the stretch of the season and in its opening-round series in Columbus. The Nittany Lions have been a completely different team since Souliere took over as the primary goaltender. Souliere was phenomenal in game three against Ohio State, allowing just one goal on 23 shots.
Minnesota’s goaltending duo of Justen Close and Jack LaFontaine has combined to start all 34 of its games. Close, who is a finalist for Big Ten Goaltender of the Year, is expected to start. The junior goaltender, who started all four games against Penn State this year, finished the season with a very impressive 1.73 goals-against average.
With the way that both goaltenders have been playing of late, it would be wise to expect a low-scoring game on Saturday evening in Minneapolis.
The Golden Gophers have a lot of firepower to throw at Penn State on Saturday. The trio of Ben Meyers, Sammy Walker, and Blake McLaughlin have the potential to cause a lot of defensive disruptions.
In Penn State’s only loss in round one, the Buckeyes were consistently able to get behind the Nittany Lion defense leading to multiple odd-man rushes, leaving Souliere on an island. If the Nittany Lions want to hang with Minnesota offensively, the blue-liners must do their job to shut down the Golden Gophers in the defensive zone.
There’s no more margin for error going forward for the Nittany Lions. Penn State has one game, win or go home, to make a statement and pick up one of the biggest wins in program history. Given its recent play and a 1-3 record against the Golden Gophers in the regular season, we expect the game to be close for the first two periods but as the game progresses, we anticipate that the Golden Gophers will pull away from the Nittany Lions.
We’ll go with a final score of 3-1 in favor of Minnesota.
Penn State will visit the Golden Gophers in Minnesota with a spot in the conference championship on the line. Puck drop is set for 9 p.m. on Saturday, March 12.
Your ad blocker is on.
Please choose an option below.
Purchase a Subscription!
About the Author
“That broken ear is a permanent reminder of the dark side of Penn State University, the lives lost, and a warning. A warning that the deaths will continue unless massive change is enacted.”
In a statement sent to Onward State, Julia Cipparulo claimed to have vandalized several Penn State campus landmarks, including the Lion Shrine, on May 8.
Nittany Lions old and new have received new jersey numbers ahead of the 2022 season.