Woeful Gophers Lose Again in B1G Tourney Opener

Two Last-Minute Second Period Goals Too Much for Maroon and Gold

State College, PA – The home team was once again jovial in Happy Valley.  For Gopher fans, the last three games have been more like the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Penn State once again outplayed, outmanned and, most importantly, outscored the Gophers, beating them 5-3 on the strength of a pair of goals in the final 71 seconds of the middle period.  The win was the Nittany Lions’ third straight over Minnesota in just the last 8 days, putting the Gophers on the brink of elimination in the Big Ten conference tournament and inching them ever closer away from the safety of the middle of the PairWise pack and towards the bubble.

Minnesota (19-16-2 Overall, 10-13-2 B1G) got a big performance from Casey Mittelstadt, who scored the game’s opening goal (the first of his two on the night) on the powerplay at 11:13 of the first.  Penn State (17-13-5, 10-10-5) responded at 15:39 on Cole Hults’ PP tally to tie the game at 1-1.

The Gophers’ Darian Romanko took a 5-minute major with 1:35 left in the first, putting Penn State on a 5-minute power play that flowed into the second.  PSU’s Nate Sucese scored toward the tail-end of that man-advantage, putting the Nittany Lions ahead at 2:35 of the second.  Scott Reedy tied the game on a nice pass from behind the net from Rem Pitlick at 15:13, but Penn State struck twice with under two minutes left in the middle stanza, once on a soft bad-angle shot by Dennis Smirnov with 1:11 remaining in the second and again on a bad defensive play resulting in a two-on-one by Andrew Sturtz with just fifteen seconds left.

The goals were deflating, but the Gophers made things slightly more interesting before the end.  Tyler Sheehy drew a five-minute major at 10:17 of the third for contact to the head (but was somehow also called for embellishment on the play), and Casey Mittelstadt scored his second of the game and 10th of the season with 5 minutes to go to pull Minnesota within one.  The Gophers drew another powerplay on a nice Brent Gates rush just 33 seconds after the Mittelstadt goal, but the Minnesota power play, which had already scored twice on the night, regressed to its awful mean, and Penn State scored with Mat Robson pulled for an extra attacker to salt the game away at 5-3.

Robson drew the loss on the night, and for the second straight start against these Nittany Lions has looked human.  It’s hard to fault Robson for most of the goals tonight, but I’m sure he’d like to have the Smirnov one back.  It will be interesting to see if Gopher coach Don Lucia goes with Eric Schierhorn, firmly ensconced in the doghouse but not a loser of three straight against this PSU squad.

Coming into the night, the Gophers were something like 100% to make the tournament by winning at least one game this weekend, and 97% to make it if they were swept again.  Lots of other crazy things would need to happen in college hockey for this team to miss the tournament at this point, but it sure would be nice for the Gophers to play like it mattered and win a game against a team they should be better than.

Minnesota has a chance to even the series Saturday.  The puck drops at 6PM Central time and can be seen on FSN+, streamed on BTN2Go, and heard on AM1130.

Go Gophers!