No. 18 Penn State Men’s Hockey Falls 4-1 To No. 7 Minnesota
No. 18 Penn State men’s hockey (8-5-3, 1-3-3 Big Ten) lost 4-1 to No. 7 Minnesota (8-4-3, 4-3-2 Big Ten) on Friday night at Pegula Ice Arena.
The Nittany Lions opened the game with a promising start, as they scored a goal not even six minutes after the puck dropped. However, the Golden Gophers rallied to score two goals within two minutes of each other at the end of the period, and they only widened their lead from there. Ultimately, Penn State lost 4-1 in the first game of the series.
How It Happened
The “kid line” got the start against Minnesota’s NHL-laden lineup. Penn State got off to a controlling start with the line using its speed to keep the Golden Gophers backed up in their zone. Minnesota had problems clearing the puck, as the Nittany Lions continued intercepting pucks and generating chances. This paid off at 5:30 in the opening period when Tanner Palocsik passed it to Dane Dowiak, who went top shelf on Justen Close to make it 1-0 Nittany Lions.
Pretty assist, prettier goal.— Onward State (@OnwardState) December 2, 2023
Penn State’s impressive start continued. The Nittany Lions maintained puck possession for the better part of the period, and when they didn’t, their defense quickly seized it back. Multiple breakaways got the already loud crowd at Pegula Ice Arena even more excited, including one from a speedy Danny Dzhaniyev that barely missed the net.
However, Minnesota found its footing with 3:25 remaining in the period, as Sam Rinzel’s shot snuck between Liam Souliere’s pads to tie it 1-1. It was also his team’s first shot of the game.
Minnesota came to life from then on. Then, in an odd-man rush, Jaxon Nelson raced down the ice and passed the puck to a wide-open Bryce Brodzinski, who buried it to give the Golden Gophers a 2-1 lead at 18:07 in the first period. The once-promising start for the Nittany Lions was erased in less than two minutes.
In the second period, the Golden Gophers continued to build on their success. Like Penn State early on in the first period, Minnesota controlled the puck and largely had its way. The only thing standing in the way was a counterattack that still showed signs of life, albeit rare.
Then, the Gophers struck again. Liam Souliere deflected a shot from Oliver Moore, but he couldn’t stop Connor Kurth in time as he sent it into a wide-open net to take a 3-1 lead at 9:08 in the second period.
Reese Laubach took a holding penalty a minute later, which only made it worse for the Nittany Lions. At 11:42 in the period, Rhett Pitlick buried a rebound to expand the lead to 4-1 in a play that exposed Penn State’s defense once again.
Penn State had a rare chance when Dowiak attempted to go top-shelf in front of the net, but Close denied it with his pad, and Minnesota regained possession. However, the Nittany Lions went on the power play with 4:26 left in the period, as John Mittelstadt was sent to the sin bin for slashing. Despite heavy net traffic, Penn State only took two shots, including one that went right into Close’s chest, and Minnesota easily killed its penalty.
After back-and-forth play for the first four minutes of the third period, Mason Nevers took a two-minute slashing penalty to give Penn State its second power play of the night. Once again, however, nothing came of it for the Nittany Lions.
The Nittany Lions and Golden Gophers each traded blows, but the home team continued to be outplayed, as Minnesota’s tough defense kept them at bay. Five of its six starting defensemen are NHL signees, which was evident as plays were consistently broken up.
Matt DiMarsico took a two-minute slashing penalty at 13:16 in the third period, which handed Minnesota its first power play. However, the Gophers didn’t score, which is unusual for their .238 power play percentage. Aiden Fink took an interference penalty three minutes later, and once again, Minnesota didn’t score.
The clock ticked away shortly after, and Penn State fell 4-1.
- Penn State’s lackluster defense was the biggest reason why it lost this game. Not allowing a shot for the majority of the first period made it seem like a win might’ve been coming, but frequently allowing odd-man rushes, failing to clear the puck, and leaving Gophers exposed led to a nightmare showing.
- Liam Souliere isn’t to blame. Although no goaltender is ever above criticism when four goals are conceded, he was left to dry too often. He did make several impressive saves that should’ve been goals, but when rebounds aren’t picked up against as good of a team as Minnesota is, it’s going to be pretty tough to win.
- The Nittany Lions’ first power play opportunity, which came late in the second period, might’ve been where the game was lost. Taking just two shots on goal, including one that Close didn’t even have to move to save, isn’t a good enough effort. Although Minnesota was up by three goals, that was the last significant chance to change momentum before it felt too late against a team that good.
Penn State and Minnesota will finish the series at 6 p.m. on Saturday, December 2, at Pegula Ice Arena. The second game of the series will be broadcast on Big Ten Network.
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About the Author
After scoring only two goals in the first half, TJ Malone and the Nittany Lions came back to win in sudden death overtime.
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