Minneapolis, MN – For the third time in as many weeks, the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers came out of their Big Ten weekend series with a win and a loss.
This time, it helped them gain ground on first-place Michigan, who was swept by Notre Dame.
The Gophers (7-5-1-1 Overall, 5-2-0-1 B1G) dropped Friday’s series opener for the fifth time in seven series, but bounced back Saturday for their fifth Saturday regulation win (and sixth overall Saturday win) to earn the split.
In both weekend games, Penn State scored the first goal and grabbed the early lead. Friday night’s tally came at 6:41 of the opening frame. Minnesota’s Matthew Knies scored with 32 seconds left in the period to tie the game at 1-1, and Jaxon Nelson scored just 3:32 into the 2nd to give the Gophers a 2-1 lead. Penn State scored a pair of their own goals, including Ben Copeland’s goal on a penalty-box breakaway at 10:29, to take a 3-2 lead midway through the game. Minnesota tied it up yet again late in the period, with Nelson scoring his second of the night with just 1:02 left in the middle stanza to tie it at 3-3.
Penn State managed to take advantage of their chances in the third, scoring two quick goals to open up a 5-3 advantage, the first two-goal lead of the game for either team. The Gophers had a 5-on-3 advantage midway through the third but could not beat PSU goalie Oskar Autio, and the rest of the period wound down without any further scoring.
The first goal of Saturday’s contest had to wait until the second period, as both teams traded chances in the first but the goalies (Jack LaFontaine for the Gophers, Autio for PSU) came up with some big saves to keep the score knotted at 0-0. Penn State broke the tie at 5:45 of the 2nd when Jimmy Dowd Jr. scored on a funny deflection off the end-wall glass to put the Nittany Lions up 1-0. Minnesota captain Sammy Walker tied the game at 1-1 at 11:51 of the period, and the two teams again went into the third period tied. Saturday, though, it was the Gophers that took control. Matthew Knies scored his seventh goal of the year (tied for the lead among NCAA freshmen) on the powerplay at 4:57 of the final frame to put Minnesota up 2-1. Penn State was not out of it, and Kevin Wall scored off the faceoff at 12:24 to tie it at 2-2.
For the second night in a row, the Gophers earned a 5-on-3 advantage in the third period, and this time they didn’t waste it. Mason Nevers tipped a Brock Faber wrister from the point past Autio to put Minnesota up 3-2 at 14:49 of the period. Sammy Walker added an empty netter at 18:39 to put Minnesota up 4-2 and seal the victory.
The split puts Minnesota on 16 points in the Big Ten, just one behind Michigan in the race for the league title. The Wolverines were swept by Notre Dame this weekend, and it sets up a big series in two weeks when the Gophers travel to Ann Arbor to take on the current #1 team in the nation.
Before that, though, the Gophers will travel to Grand Forks to square off against #6 North Dakota. Friday’s post-Thanksgiving affair starts at 7PM, while Saturday is a little earlier at 6PM. The games are on Midco Sports and NCHC.tv, but should be available on Xfinity channel 999 (similar to the Saturday Duluth game earlier in the season).