No. 8 Penn State men’s hockey looking for upset over No. 1 Minnesota
That’s the sense that No. 8 Penn State gets this weekend as it faces the No. 1 team in the country when it travels to Minnesota for a series with the Golden Gophers.
Facing the best team in the country is not the only aspect familiar to the Nittany Lions, as the last time they faced Minnesota, they were also coming off of an upset.
That upset was over the Ohio State Buckeyes on the road in the 2022 Big Ten Tournament. Nearly eight months later, the Nittany Lions are coming off of a series that included an upset over top-ranked Michigan and will travel to Minneapolis seeking revenge.
After upsetting Michigan in Game 1, the Nittany Lions stormed back in the third period of Game 2 to secure a point before falling in overtime. Coach Guy Gadowsky credits his teams’ early season success, which includes the best start in program history at 9-1-0, to a change in culture.
“It's more of a feel than what you can see, but it's the feeling in the locker room and the environment and how guys want to come to the rink and want to be around each other and the trust,” Gadowsky said. “The trust that the guys have in each other and the trust the coaching staff has and the administration has in the team. That's the difference.”
The Nittany Lions will need that trust again this weekend, especially on the defensive end, as the Golden Gophers average 3.8 goals per game, which rank seventh nationally.
Minnesota had big skates to fill with three of their top five scorers from a season ago departing, including Sammy Walker, whose late third period goal ended Penn State’s tournament run.
Stepping right up is Jimmy Snuggerud, whose eight goals and 12 points lead the team. But likewise to last weekend, when Penn State faced freshman Adam Fantilli, the freshman is helped by a team full of talent, including two Olympians in Matthew Knies and Brock Faber.
Knies is second on the team with seven goals and 11 points. The defenseman Faber has six points, while his fellow blue-liner Jackson LaCombe is tied with Knies in points.
Liam Souliere is in charge of stopping that offensive attack this weekend. The junior netminder sits atop the Big Ten with a 1.63 goals against average and is second in the conference with a .937 save percentage, which both rank top-10 nationally.
The Ontario native posted his second consecutive shutout in Game 1 against Michigan after his first career one against Wisconsin.
Souliere has not done it on his own, as the Nittany Lions’ defense allows 2.0 goals per contest, which ranks first in the Big Ten and sixth in the country. While a big part of that has been the full-time starting goalie, Gadowsky credits his entire team.
“It really has been an entire team effort, and I think if you're going to keep teams like Michigan or Minnesota at a minimum you need everybody,” Gadowsky said. “You just can't have your D and just your goalies. You need everybody. I think at least the last two weekends, that's been the case.”
That total team effort extends to the offensive end for Penn State, which ranks fourth nationally, averaging 4.3 goals per game. That offense was heavily carried by a line of Ture Linden, Ryan Kirwan and Kevin Wall in the early going but has seen more balance as of late.
While the blue and white continue to score from all over, the line of Xander Lamppa, Christian Sarlo and Tyler Paquette has garnered the most praise the past two weekends.
Paquette and Lamppa scored in the third period of Game 2 when the Nittany Lions erased a 3-0 deficit to force three-on-three hockey.
“The way they have to do things is very, very physically demanding, and it's a mental preparation,” Gadowsky said of the trio. “Part of it is their stripes, part of it has to be in you. You just can't pretend to play that way. It's a matter of their challenge, is to be consistent night in and night out.”
That offense will be tested against Big Ten Second Star of the Week Justen Close. Close stopped 45 of 46 shots against No. 12 Notre Dame last weekend. The senior netminder has surrendered 15 goals on 186 shots for a goals-against average of 1.84, and a save percentage of .919 thus far.
Close’s goals-against average is second in the Big Ten behind the goalie on the other end of the ice this weekend, while his save percentage is fourth.
Puck drop is slated for 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday from 3M Arena at Mariucci, an arena known for loud crowds.
Transfer forward Ashton Calder shared his key to winning in a hostile environment.
“I think it's just obviously sticking together. The crowd is not going to be on our side, I can't imagine,” Calder said. “Obviously, it's going to be a little challenging, but I think sometimes it's fun to embrace it.”
Justin Ciavolella is a second-year student majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
About the Contributors