Minneapolis, Minn. – Minnesota spotted Penn State two goals before finding their game. The Gophers (14-13-0, 9-3-0) rallied for a brief third period lead, but Penn State (17-8-3, 7-5-0-0) capitalized on their opportunity late to win 5-3 at Mariucci Arena in front of 10,151.
The Nittany Lions tried and failed to match Minnesota’s speed and skill Friday night according to Zach Saar, but they returned to their team identity of playing simple and playing for each other with a chip on our shoulder to join Michigan State as the only two teams to win Big Ten conference games at Mariucci Arena.
“I think two words come to mind for me are frustrating and disappointing,” said Don Lucia. “We leave it to fate there at the end, that’s hockey sometimes… you shoot, they block it, then it comes back to him, goes off our guy, and goes in.”
“For me I thought we lost the game early, not late, even though we came back to tie the game. We had a good push the second half of the game, but I didn’t like our game in the first period.”
Penn State got goals from Matt Mendelson midway through the first and then David Glen on the power play early in the second. The Gophers played on the perimeter early and Minnesota turnovers forced Eric Schierhorn to make numerous saves on odd-man rushes.
The Gopher power play finally got them back into the game midway through the second period. Tyler Sheehy and Vinni Lettieri established position deep in the zone and then worked it out to Jake Bischoff for a one-timer at 8:11. Sheehy then tied the game on his next shift, sniping a shot bar down for his 10th of the season at 9:49.
“I actually was going to pass to Stevie Johnson moving down from the point,” said Sheehy. “But the lane closed and I was just trying to put it on net and I think it might hit something—I’m not really sure.”
Penn State answered right back when Luke Juha walked in from the point to score at 10:35 after Alec Marsh won a battle below the goal line and slipped the puck to the slot for a one timer.
Justin Kloos scored his 12th goal of the season at the end of the second period. Hudson Fasching sparked a short-handed 2-on-1 and carried the puck up ice before saucer passing it to the captain who tied the game 3-3 at 19:20.
Minnesota controlled play for much of the final period and appeared to take a lead when Taylor Cammarata drove the net and put back a rebound. However a video review, initiated on the advice of the Penn State equipment manager, disallowed the goal.
“That’s why they have it, you want to get the call right, and there’s nothing to argue when they go to replay,” said Lucia. “It happened right in front of their bench, it was easy to see that.”
It was almost a go ahead goal for Cammarata, who’s offensive game was sparked since being elevated to a line with Kloos and Sheehy.
“We had a little heart to heart earlier in the week,” said Lucia. “And then I made the decision to give him an opportunity this weekend to see if he could be that offensive spark that we need. Because you start to evaluate, and I don’t think we can get to where we hope to get if he doesn’t score.”
While the Gophers pressed it was a lost face-off in the third period that cost them. Chase Berger won the draw to Saar, his initial shot was blocked by Steve Johnson, but the puck went right back to him and his second shot deflected off Ryan Collins past Schierhorn.
Minnesota put some pressure on during the final stretch, but never capitalized and Penn State’s Kenny Brooks tallied an empty net goal after Berger blocked a shot in the final seconds of the game.
The Gophers are tied for first place with Michigan with 27 points, and the Nittany Lions sit in third place with 21 points. Minnesota travels to Ohio State next weekend and then after a bye week will welcome Michigan to Mariucci Arena February 25 and 26.
“We got opportunities in the third, but we weren’t able to execute,” said Kloos. “Same old story we’re a good team when we work hard, and when we don’t, we’re not.”