Hockey Preview: Minnesota
Travis Sutton, Brian McLaughlin, Eric Ohlson and Marty Kassalan preview this weekend's matchup against Minnesota.
This weekend, two of the NCAA’s top ten teams will face off in a two game series as the No.6 Penn State Nittany Lions (16-4-2, 5-2-1-0 Big Ten) head to Minneapolis to take on the No. 7 Minnesota Golden Gophers (15-7-2, 6-2-0-0 Big Ten). Both Friday and Saturday’s games will start at 7 p.m.
Penn State is coming off back-to-back losses and hasn’t won a game since being ranked No.1 in the NCAA for the first time in the program’s history. The Nittany Lions were given the title after their sweep of Michigan State on January 14th and have since played three games, losing twice to Ohio State (the first one coming after overtime and a shootout) and then to Princeton after leading by two at the end of the second period. The Nittany Lions hadn’t lost consecutive games all season until last week. Penn State is desperate to get back to winning ways though this weekend does not shape up to be easy.
Minnesota is tied for first place in the Big Ten at 6-2-0, having only lost to Wisconsin and Ohio State. Since the start of the New Year, Minnesota is 3-2 and has won 8 of its last 10, beating Bemidji State most recently 4-0. They had a seven game winning streak going until they fell to Wisconsin and No 1. Minnesota-Duluth in back-to-back games.
Being at home is a huge advantage for Minnesota as they are 27-5-2 on their Olympic-sized sheet of ice inside Mariucci Arena since joining the Big Ten at the start of the 2013 season. Minnesota leads the all-time series between these two teams 9-3-0. With home ice the Gophers are 5-1-0 and have outscored Penn State 25-10. The two teams haven’t met since last February when Penn State beat Minnesota for the first time at Mariucci Arena with a 5-3 victory.
Penn State is going to look to their stellar offense to bring them out of this rut as they are ranked first in the nation with an average of 4.41 goals per game. Penn State isn’t just good on even strength offense however, they rank high all over the board. The Lions’ power-play offense is tied for 11th in the country with a 21.43 percent success rate while their penalty killing team gets them a tie for 10th at 85.9 percent. Penn State’s defense isn’t among the top ten in the nation but they still settle in pretty high with an average of 2.36 goals allowed per game, just a little more than half of what the Nittany Lions average on the other side of the ice.
Minnesota is also confident in its offense as they are ranked the fifth-highest scoring in the NCAA, averaging 3.71 goals per game. The Gophers do outrank Penn State with their power-play offense, who have earned the seventh spot in the nation with 22.8 conversion percentage. Minnesota’s penalty killing doesn’t impress quite as much with a tie for 24th with 84.5 percent. Minnesota’s defense leans the sameway as their defense, giving up 2.75 goals per game to be ranked 28th.
Minnesota will need to focus on Penn State’s sophomore forward Andrew Sturtz who is tied for fourth in the nation in goals with 17 in the 20 games he has played in as well as tied for sixth in shorthanded goals with two. Freshman forward Denis Smirnov and senior forward David Goodwin are also very dangerous for Penn State as they both have the ability to create goals all over the ice. Smirnov and Goodwin are tied for 22nd in assists in the nation with 18 in 22 games each.
One of Penn State’s biggest problems could come in the form of Minnesota’s sophomore forward Tyler Sheehy, who has managed 15 goals and 18 assists in 24 games this season, he is tied for 16th in the country in goals and 22nd in assists. Penn State’s power-play team is going to need to keep an eye on senior forward Justin Kloos as he is tied for first in shorthanded goals with three in 24 games. It will also be difficult for the Nittany Lions to find a way around sophomore goalie Eric Schierhorn who is tied for third in shutouts with four on the season for the Golden Gophers.
However this game ends, it will surely be high scoring and a lot of fun to watch as both teams have a lot riding on their performances this weekend.
Tommy Butler is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.