State College, PA – After a season of splits, the Gophers finally seem to be letting the good times roll.
Following perhaps their most complete weekend of the season, capped off with a dominating 5-1 Saturday win in Columbus to complete the road sweep, the Gophers headed into Happy Valley to face the Penn State Nittany Lions. While PSU has not been good this year, the Minnesota has struggled against the Nittany Lions on the road, having lost eight-straight at Pegula Ice Arena.
However, the Gophers’ strong play continued, and Minnesota was able to fend off a PSU comeback Friday before mounting an impressive comeback of their own Saturday to secure their third sweep in a row.
Minnesota (19RW-9RL-2OTW-2OTL Overall, 15-4-1-2 B1G) took the ice against Penn State (13-16-1-1, 4-15-2-1) Friday, February 18th, 2022, looking to win in State College for the first time since Friday, February 18th, 2017. A full five years since the Gophers’ last victory in Happy Valley, Minnesota had some demons to exorcise.
A tightly played game saw Minnesota’s Rhett Pitlick stay hot, scoring his fourth of the season 6:42 into the game to give the Gophers the lead. Penn State answered back with just under a minute left in the first to knot the game at 1-1.
Minnesota’s fourth line was great Friday night, and they got rewarded Jonny Sorenson created an offensive zone turnover, Colin Schmidt made a nice pass to Jack Perbix, and Perbix tipped the puck past PSU goalie Liam Souliere to put the Gophers up 2-1 at 15:22 of the 2nd.
The third period was a nervous affair. Minnesota was down its Olympians (Meyers, Knies, Faber), plus forward Chaz Lucius (undisclosed) and defenseman Ben Brinkman (suspension), and the Gophers started to show some fatigue. However, they were able to maintain a sound defensive structure, and by the end of the night goalie Justen Close hadn’t let another goal in, and Perbix scored on the empty net to give the Gophers a 3-1 win.
Blake McLaughlin assisted on the Perbix ENG for his 100th career point in the Maroon and Gold. Congrats to Blake on a well-deserved achievement!
After the impressive 3-1 win on Friday, it seemed like the Pegula Ice Arena curse might be rearing its ugly head Saturday. Penn State scored three quick goals in the first period to go up 3-0 at the first intermission. Minnesota fought back, with Mike Koster opening the Gopher scoring on a beautiful solo rush 4:39 into the 2nd to give the team some life. Blake McLaughlin sniped a wrister on a nice pass from Ben Brinkman at 12:27 to get the Gophers within one at 3-2. Penn State scored their fourth of the game on a bad angle shot at 14:53 to regain a two-goal lead, but Grant Cruikshank scored again off a beautiful Koster pass at 17:27 to get Minnesota back within one at 4-3.
The Gophers completed the comeback in the third, with Aaron Huglen scoring on the powerplay at 4:41 to tie the game at 4-4, and Jackson LaCombe scoring just his second of the season at 8:27 to give Minnesota their first lead of the game at 5-4. Grant Cruikshank added an empty netter in the final minute to give the Gophers a 6-4 win.
The sweep keeps Minnesota in it with a chance in the Big Ten title chase. Michigan swept a huge series against Ohio State this weekend to keep pace with the Gophers and maintain their two point lead. Minnesota hosts Wisconsin next weekend while Michigan travels to South Bend to take on the Irish, who sit just one point behind Ohio State for third place in the conference standings. A Gopher sweep and a Michigan split would mean that Minnesota could be your 2021-2022 Big Ten regular season champions.
The sweep also kept the Gophers climbing up the Pairwise rankings. Minnesota currently sits fifth in the PWR, just a handful of RPI points behind #4 Western Michigan for the fourth and final #1 seed slot in the NCAA tournament. However, lots of teams have lots of games left before the math settles on the PWR, so the Gophers will look ahead to their next opponent, the Badgers.
Next weekend’s season finale sees the Gophers host Wisconsin Friday and Saturday nights. Friday’s game is an 8PM start, while Saturday is the usual 7PM faceoff. Friday will be televised on ESPNU, and Saturday will be on BTN. Both games can be heard on AM1130 / FM103.5.