Uninspired Gophers Drop Big Ten Opener 3-1 to Nittany Lions

Minneapolis, MN – Gopher fans are accustomed to seeing exciting hockey at Mariucci arena.  Quick passes, fast skating, and quality goal-scoring chances are all commonplace within the walls of Gopher Hockey’s home turf.

Fans who purchased a ticket tonight were treated to some pretty exciting hockey – it just happened to come from the visiting team.

Penn State (2-1-0 Overall, 1-0-0 B1G) built a 3-0 lead midway through the second period and salted it away the rest of the game, as the Gophers (1-2-0, 0-1-0) seemed out-of-sorts, playing sloppy early-season hockey and coming away from the game with only a 3-1 home-opening loss to show for their gaudy preseason ranking.

The game had a tepid start, with the Gophers not registering a shot until 12 minutes into the frame.  Gopher coach Don Lucia mentioned the slow start in his postgame comments, stating that the Gophers’ “10-minute game has been non-existent.”  Added Lucia, “getting off to a good start is so important.  I looked up at the clock at the 10-minute mark and we had zero shots.  We’ve got to be better than that.”

Penn State took advantage of the slow start and jumped out to a 1-0 lead at 15:03, when Andrew Sturtz scored on a breakaway just as a Gopher powerplay expired.

Denis Smirnov added a powerplay tally early in the second, and Nikita Pavlychev increased the PSU lead to 3-0 with a powerplay goal of his own on a Leon Bristedt five-minute major at 9:36 of the middle stanza.

The Gophers seemed to pick up the intensity at that point, killing off the remaining four minutes-and-change on the Bristedt CFB, and built some momentum as the second period ticked away.  Peyton Jones made an unbelieveable stick save on a Mike Szmatula opportunity down low, reaching back across the goal with his stick in the air to knock the Gopher chance aside.

Szmatula was sangfroid after the game on the save: “the guy hooked me, the guy made the save and I crashed into the post.  It was kinda a combination of [bad] things, there.”

Minnesota would score halfway through the third when Ryan Norman deposited an against-the-grain pass from behind the net past Jones.  Darian Romanko and Ryan Zuhlsdorf assisted on what would be the Gophers’ lone tally of the night.

After the game, Gopher coach Don Lucia, who is usually terse following losses, was anything but.  Lucia went on for nearly 10 minutes, speaking with media even after it seemed like there were no further questions regarding the game.  The Gopher bench boss was still in teaching-mode, explaining to the gathered media what needed to happen as if we were the 20 players in his locker room.

Lucia was quick to praise the fourth line, which got the team’s only goal on the evening, stating that “the hard working guys are scoring our goals.”

Lucia noted several times that the team just isn’t where he wants them to be yet.  On an early Gopher 4-on-3 powerplay chance, Lucia noted that Minnesota “had a chance to put [the puck] in Rem [Pitlick]’s wheelhouse,” but “missed by 10 feet.  That’s kinda where we’re at right now.”

Lucia also mentioned Leon Bristedt’s game misconduct, saying that Bristedt, as a senior, “knows better.”  Again, Lucia intoned that the play “kinda sums up where we’re at right now.”

One of Lucia’s key points was about applying the team’s efforts and talents.  “We’re not playing the right way,” he said.  “We’re not trying smart.  We’re just trying individually.  We’re five guys disjointed, playing as [individuals].”  Lucia later emphasized this point: “Sometimes you can try too hard, but then you don’t try too smart.  You’re trying, […] but then you end up making a low-percentage play.”

Lucia’s upbeat, sage-like manner speaks volumes about his confidence in the team’s ability to turn their game around quickly.  “We’ve looked better in practice than we’ve looked in a game,” he mused.  “We have to translate what we’re doing in the week to Friday and Saturday.  Our guys have to work.  Monday through Thursday our guys come to the rink, and they have a great attitude, but it hasn’t translated yet on a Friday, Saturday night consistently.”

Of note to Gopher fans, Tyler Sheehy did not dress tonight.  When asked after the game, Lucia called the junior captain “week to week.”  Sheehy will not play in Sunday’s rubber match, and Lucia was non-committal on whether Sheehy will be back to practice next week.  Lucia’s view of Sheehy’s absence?  “Right now, we’re not playing well enough where it matters.”

Hopefully the Gophers will get back to their game soon, and hopefully Sheehy will be back in uniform sooner than later.  The Gophers play Penn State Sunday at 3PM for the series finale.  The game can be seen on Fox Sports North and heard on iHeart Radio (100.3FM in the Twin Cities).

Go Gophers!