Pitlick Scores Twice to Pace Gophers
Minneapolis, MN – “These games are huge for the end of the year.”
Jake Bischoff stressed that the Gophers understood the importance of this weekend’s series against #4/6 Penn State. The way Minnesota played, Friday night’s contest looked like it was the most important game of their lives.
Minnesota (16-7-2 Overall, 7-2-0 B1G) dominated Penn State (16-5-2, 5-3-1 B1G), scoring five goals and holding the Nittany Lions to just one lone goal.
In a battle billed as a potential goal-scoring explosion between two of the top five offenses in the nation, it was Minnesota’s defense that stood out. The Gophers held Penn State to under 30 shots on goal for the first time all season, and to under 3 goals for only the second game all year en route to the victory.
The first period opened on a tentative note, with both teams playing sound defensively and avoiding taking any chances.
“I think both teams were cautious when the game began” said Gopher head coach Don Lucia. “There wasn’t a lot of ice.”
That changed as the first period dripped on. Minnesota finally broke through for the first goal of the game, on a nice shift from the second line. Ryan Collins and Taylor Cammarata kept the play alive before squirting a puck through to an open Vinni Lettieri on the weak side of the crease. Lettieri’s backhand flipped past PSU goalie Chris Funkey to give the Gophers a 1-0 lead at 17:22 of the first.
The second period saw two more goals in quick succession for Minnesota, both from a previously-snakebit Rem Pitlick. The goals, the first at just 54 seconds and the second at 4:33, were of the loose-change variety, with Pitlick picking up loose pucks near the crease and firing them home.
“We’ve been harping on [Pitlick] to go to the front of the net,” said Lucia. “He’s so good off the rush, but [the front of the net] is an area of his game he’s got to improve on.”
The span of just over seven minutes of gameplay, from the Lettieri goal at the end of the first to Pitlick’s second tally, saw the Gophers go from a 0-0 tightly-contested defensive struggle to a 3-0 death-grip on the game.
Penn State scored at 8:42 of the second on a laser wrist shot from Trevor Hamilton, and the game tightened from there. With just two goals between the teams, the next goal would be the most important of the game.
Bischoff still felt confident in the team’s defensive capabilities. “Our D-corps played really well. We deflected a lot of shots out of the middle.”
Riding that defensive prowess, the Gophers were able to get that all-important fourth goal while time wound down in the middle stanza. A late two-on-one rush between Justin Kloos and Tyler Sheehy resulted in Sheehy depositing his team-leading 16th goal of the season into the back of the net with just 4.1 seconds left in the period.
The goal gave Minnesota a huge boost of confidence heading into the locker room, and despite playing a more defensively-minded third period they were able to get a late powerplay tally from Mike Szmatula to ice the game at 5-1.
Sheehy and Bischoff had three-point nights for the Gophers – the three assists for Bischoff were a career-high. Eric Schierhorn also assisted on the Szmatula goal, his first point of the season.
The win was big for the conference standings and the PairWise Rankings. Minnesota kept pace with Wisconsin at the head of the B1G standings, with 21 points a piece. Penn State dropped to third with 16 total points. The PairWise movement was more severe. The win vaulted the Gophers to fifth place in the PWR at the time of this writing, while Penn State, #1 overall just three weekends ago, has dropped to #8 in the rankings after a 0-3-1 stretch over their last four games.
The two teams battle in the series’ rubber match Saturday evening, with the Gophers looking for the sweep and Penn State looking to salvage a big road split. The puck drops at 7PM and can be seen on BTN, streamed on BTN2Go, and heard on AM1500.
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