By Ryan Williamson
MINNEAPOLIS — In Penn State’s brief time as a Division I hockey program, opportunities to prove themselves as a contender have come early and often. This weekend’s series against No. 7 Minnesota, the winner of the past four regular season Big Ten championship, is just the latest such opportunity.
In the first of a two-game series, No. 11 Penn State picked up its second win at 3M Arena, downing the Golden Gophers 3-1.
In last season’s Big Ten tournament, Penn State prevailed in a double-overtime thriller in the semifinals. And while the Nittany Lions clawed their way to a victory in that meeting, they had few problems in Friday’s tilt, holding Minnesota without a shot for the first 12 minutes.
On the offensive end, the Nittany Lions got on the board when Andrew Sturtz pushed the puck past Gophers goalie Eric Schierhorn to give his team the lead. From there, the Nittany Lions’ power play took control. Denis Smirnov struck first with the man-advantage for Penn State. Later in the second period, Nikita Pavlychev scored at the end of a Nittany Lion five-on-three opportunity. Penn State got the chance thanks to a five-minute major penalty on Minnesota’s Leon Bristedt.
Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky was quick to put to bed the idea his offense won the game and placed the focus on the play of goaltender Peyton Jones.
“You’re not going to get any points out of here without phenomenal goaltending,” Gadowsky said. “That’s exactly what we got tonight. We got a couple bounces to go our way. We were opportunistic.”
Jones held down the Gophers throughout the game, making 20 saves in the victory. His strong play included a second-period stretch that resulted in the sophomore sticking out his stick and making a highlight-reel save on a point-blank chance from Minnesota’s Mike Szmatula.
“I’ve obviously seen saves like that before on SportsCenter, but I’ve never seen one live,” Gadowsky said. “It was pretty incredible.”
On the other side, Gopher goaltender Eric Schierhorn set the school record with his 78th consecutive start. Unfortunately for the Anchorage, Alaska, native, his team did not support him much on the offensive end.
After getting just one shot on goal in its first Friday game of the season against Minnesota-Duluth last week, Minnesota struggled to get to the net in the early goings of its home opener. It’s a problem that has Gophers head coach Don Lucia struggling for answers.
“We’ve looked better in practice than we have in a game, and honestly, I’m kind of dumbfounded by that,” Lucia said. “We’re trying, but we’re not trying smart. There are five guys that are disjointed and not playing as one.”
After tough stretches in the first and second period, Minnesota’s Ryan Norman was the only Gopher to get on the board. He buried a chance in front of the net to cut into the Nittany Lions’ lead to 3-1.
While Lucia and his team were quick to point at his team’s struggles, Penn State once again proved to be a thorn in the side of Minnesota. Though it wasn’t pretty, the Nittany Lions’ picked up a rare win in the Twin Cities.
A win on Sunday for Penn State would mean the program’s first road sweep of the Gophers. But with Minnesota’s pedigree, the Nittany Lions will surely face a tough fight from Minnesota.
“We’ve got to get in rhythm,” Lucia said. “We’ve got to change the way we’re playing. I don’t believe we’re playing the right way. We just have to play better as a group when we step on the ice.”
Big Ten Roundup
No. 10 Wisconsin 5, No. 13 Boston College 2
In its first road game of the season, the No. 10 Wisconsin cruised to a victory against Boston College at the Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Mass. Five different Badgers tallied goals in the win. Trent Frederic got Wisconsin on the board late in the first period. Tim Davison and Seamus Malone each scored in the second period to give the Badgers the lead for good.
Rensselaer 1, Ohio State 1
Ohio State and Rennselaer played to a 1-1 tie in their first matchup of the weekend. The scoring kicked off in the second period as Dakota Joshua got the Buckeyes on the board early in the period. Jared Wilson scored on the power play for the Engineers to tie the game later in the period. Ultimately, the game is listed as a tie, but the Buckeyes prevailed in a shootout thanks to a goal from Mason Jobst.
No. 1 Denver 2, No. 4 Notre Dame 2
In a rematch of the second semifinal in the 2017 Frozen Four, No. 1 Denver and No. 4 Notre Dame battled to a 2-2 tie in the first of a two-game series. The Pioneers got out to 2-1 lead thanks to a pair of goals from Henrik Borgstrom. After Jake Evans got the Fighting Irish out to a 1-0 lead in the first, Andrew Oglevie tied the game at 2 late in the third period. After a scoreless overtime period, Denver prevailed in the shootout. Den Kohen clinced the shootout for the Pioneers and got one past Notre Dame goalie Dylan St. Cyr.
Bowling Green 4, Michigan State 1
Bowling Green picked up its first win against a Division I opponent in a 4-1 romp at home against Michigan State. Four different Falcons scored goals. Stephen Baylis got Bowling Green on the board with a power play goal in the first. He would add an assist on the Falcons’ second goal. Max Johnson had a pair of assists in the victory.