Minneapolis, MN – Coming off a successful weekend at Michigan, the Gophers were looking to continue climbing the Big Ten standings as they hosted the Penn State Nittany Lions for a weekend set.
After giving up 14 goals in two games, Minnesota left the weekend with as many points as they had when they entered.
The Gophers (4-6-2 Overall, 1-3-2-2 B1G) were resoundingly beaten by #8 Penn State (9-2-0, 5-1-0), with the visitors thoroughly outclassing the young Gophers 8-2 Friday and 6-3 Saturday.
Miraculously, Minnesota escaped the first period Friday night tied 0-0, thanks in large part to a superhuman effort between the pipes by Jack LaFontaine. The junior netminder stopped all 16 Nittany Lion shots in the first period, including about six point-blank scoring chances, but the second wasn’t as kind to the Gophers. Penn State scored early and often in the middle frame, netting three goals in the first five minutes of the period and tacking on another before the 10-minute mark to put a 4-0 stranglehold on the game.
Gopher forward Jaxon Nelson scored his first official goal as a Gopher at 12:18 of the second to try to creep back into the game at 4-1, which is where the scoreline was as the third period started. Any thoughts that Minnesota had of getting back into the game in the third were dashed early, as PSU again scored just 27 seconds in to put it out of reach.
After the early third period goal, Minnesota pulled Jack LaFontaine and put Justen Close in at goalie. PSU scored again at 3:42, and again on the powerplay at 6:51 to make it 7-1 before Sampo Ranta scored the Gophers’ final goal of the game at 9:30. Penn State’s Sam Sternschein scored at 15:20 to close out the scoring at 8-2.
Friday was the most outclassed I’ve ever seen a Gopher team. Penn State was all over the ice, skating circles around Minnesota and creating chance after quality chance in front of the Gopher net. LaFontaine was the best Gopher player on the ice, despite giving up 5 goals in just two plus periods.
Saturday, Minnesota at least came to play. The Gophers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, with goals from Scott Reedy on the powerplay and Cullen Munson (his first as a Gopher). The second period was again when Penn State got going. Sternschein scored for the Nittany Lions at 3:15, and Minnesota’s Sampo Ranta answered on a breakaway at 4:21 to give the Gophers their two-goal lead back. However, Penn State’s Liam Folkes responded right back just 14 seconds later to pull the Nittany Lions back within one, and Nate Sucese scored at 12:37 to tie the game at 3-3.
Just like that, Penn State had erased Minnesota’s quick start, and they put their collective foot down in the third. Former Gopher Clayton Phillips scored at 3:51 to give the Nittany Lions a 4-3 lead they wouldn’t look back from. PSU tacked on goals at 10:48 and 18:22 to finish the game with a 6-3 triumph.
Prior to this weekend, I would have rated team defense and goaltending as the strengths of the team early in the season. The Gophers still struggle creating offense, both five-on-five and on the powerplay, but the team has been good at limiting offensive chances, and the goalies have for the most part made the big saves when those chances occurred. Penn State is one of the better offensive teams in the nation, and Guy Gadowsky’s team plays with speed and skill and a tenacity that good Gopher teams have had in the not-too-distant past. Minnesota’s young defensemen (and some of the older ones) got exposed by Penn State’s attack, and hopefully the team will learn and get better from the weekend drubbing the Nittany Lions put on.
It wasn’t all bad for Minnesota, despite the scoreline. The Gopher goalies played well – LaFontaine was clearly the best Gopher on the ice Friday, and Jared Moe played well Saturday, too. Sampo Ranta played great both nights, especially Saturday. Minnesota needs some players other than Sammy Walker to be scoring threats, and hopefully Ranta can start to emerge as a threat on Minnesota’s second scoring line.
The Gophers host #16 Wisconsin this upcoming weekend. The Badgers are the second-youngest team in the nation (behind Minnesota), but they have had more immediate success on the ice than have the fledgling Gophers. Minnesota will be Wisconsin’s first unranked opponent since they faced Merrimack in their second game of the season (an 11-5 win). The Badgers swept Minnesota-Duluth, were swept by Penn State, lost a single game to Boston College, and split with Clarkson, Omaha, and Notre Dame.
This weekend’s series is Friday-Saturday, with both games starting at 7PM. Friday’s game is on FSN, and Saturday’s can be found on FSN+. Both games can be heard on AM1130 and FM 103.5, and can be streamed on Fox Sports Go.