Minneapolis, MN – Coming into this weekend’s series, the big question was “is Penn State for real?”
The Nittany Lions were 9-1-0 entering Thursday’s game, with only one “quality” win against a strong Michigan team, but no bad losses either.
After a strong showing against Minnesota this weekend, it looks like there is another contender for the Big Ten title this year.
Penn State (10-2-0 Overall, 4-2-0-0 B1G) played the Gophers (8-4-0, 4-2-0-0) hard, winning 4-2 Thursday before falling late 3-1 Friday. Bryce Brodzinski was the offensive star of the weekend for Minnesota, scoring three goals (two in the third period on Friday) to lead the Gophers to the split.
Thursday’s game was a tight one most of the way, with Penn State scoring on a two-on-one rush in the first period to take a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. Brodzinski got the Gophers on the board early in the second to tie the game at 1-1, and it settled into a close contest from there until the end of the period.
Penn State’s Christian Sarlo took a hooking penalty late in the second period, giving the Gophers a chance on the power play to take a lead before the break. The Nittany Lions killed the penalty, and turned the tables on Minnesota when Sarlo scored coming out of the penalty box with just five seconds left in the period to go up 2-1. Penn State scored again in the opening minute of the 3rd period to take a commanding 3-1 lead, which would prove too much for the Gophers to overcome.
Aaron Huglen got off the schneid with his first goal of the season to pull Minnesota to within one at 3-2, but a late PSU empty netter closed out the scoring at 4-2 Penn State.
Minnesota never really got its game going Thursday, committing numerous costly turnovers in the neutral zone which stymied their typically strong transition game.
Friday’s game played out similarly, but with fewer mistakes from the Gophers. Penn State scored first in the first period to take a 1-0 lead, a Gopher senior (Mason Nevers) tied the game in the second at 1-1, and the play settled into a tight battle from there.
The difference on Friday was the strong play of the Brodzinski-Nevers-Jaxon Nelson line in the third period. Brodzinski scored on a snipe writer 6:55 into the period to give the Gophers their first lead of the weekend. Brodzinski scored again just over a minute later at 8:01 off of a great play and pass by Nelson to put Minnesota up 3-1, which is where the scoring ended.
The split puts the Gophers in third place in the Big Ten with 12 points, one behind Penn State at 13 and two behind a surprisingly-strong Michigan State team at 14. The Spartans swept Ohio State this past weekend to jump into first place in the conference.
Minnesota travels to Ann Arbor next weekend to face off against the Michigan Wolverines. Michigan was ranked #1 in the polls two weeks ago, but is off to a slow start in conference play, splitting with Penn State and Norte Dame. Next weekend’s Thursday-Friday series should be a good battle between two teams that should be in the mix come the end of the year.