Gophers Start Slow, Surge Ahead to Win in State College

Goals on First Two Shots of the Game put Minnesota Ahead for Good

Connor Kurth celebrates a goal. Photo by Jim Harding
Connor Kurth celebrates a goal. Photo by Jim Harding

State College, PA – If you’re going to wait 15 minutes to register your first shot on goal, you’d better make it a good one.

The Gophers did just that Friday night, even going two-for-two for good measure.

After going down 1-0 with a 12-0 shot disadvantage 16 minutes into the game, the Minnesota Gophers (8-4-3 Overall (2-0 OT), 3-3-1-2 B1G) scored on their first two shots late in the first, taking the lead and never looking back in a 4-1 road win over the Penn State Nittany Lions (8-5-3 (0-0), 1-3-2-1).

It was all Penn State early on in this one, as the Nittany Lions registered the game’s first 12 shots and opened up a 1-0 lead early. Dane Dowiak scored at 5:30 on a beautiful shovel tip from right out front that beat Gopher goalie Justen Close.

PSU generated a plethora of quality chances after the Dowiak goal, but it was the Gophers that would score next late in the opening frame. Against the run of play, Rhett Pitlick rushed the puck up the left wing on a partial breakaway. After drawing both defenders to him, Pitlick threaded a pass back against the grain to an activating Sam Rinzel, whose wrister beat PSU’s Liam Souliere to tie the game at 1-1. It was Minnesota’s first shot of the game and it came at 16:35 of the first.

92 seconds later, Minnesota launched its second shot on goal of the game, a one-timed wrister on a two-on-one rush between Jaxon Nelson and Bryce Brodzinski that resulted in Brodzinski’s team-leading ninth goal of the season. The 18:07 goal sucked the life out of Pegula Ice Arena, and the Nittany Lions who had been dominating the game went into the locker room with a 2-1 disadvantage after the first.

Unlike the first period, the second was all Gophers. Minnesota scored twice in the middle stanza, with Connor Kurth scoring his third goal in three games on a rebound off of a Oliver Moore breakaway, and Rhett Pitlick batting the puck out of the air on a Gopher powerplay opportunity. The two second-period goals gave Minnesota a 4-1 lead midway through the game, and they were able to salt the rest of the game away behind quality defensive play and a strong performance from Justen Close, who ended up with 33 saves on 34 Penn State shots.

Minnesota has now only lost one game since the drubbing in the Big Ten opener versus Wisconsin, going 5-1-3 in November and December thus far and unbeaten in their last four contests. While those numbers point to an improving team, it may not feel that way to fans quite yet – each Gopher tie resulted in a shootout loss, so while they count as ties for Pairwise ranking purposes, they may feel like losses.

Minnesota will look to keep the unbeaten streak rolling Saturday night in Happy Valley. The game starts at 5PM central Saturday evening, and can be seen on BTN and streamed on BTN+ and the Fox Sports App.

About Chris Eckes 180 Articles
Gopher Hockey fan since birth. Avid golfer. Fantasy Sports enthusiast.