MHKY: Penn State Experiences Ultimate Highs and Lows, But Fails to Make Up Ground
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State planned to exact revenge against Minnesota this weekend after being swept by them earlier this season. Those plans did not come to fruition, as the Nittany Lions were defeated 6-3 on Friday and 4-3 in overtime on Saturday.
The No. 9 Penn State Nittany Lions (18-6-2) hosted the No. 5 Minnesota Golden Gophers (18-8-2) Friday and Saturday night. Minnesota was leading the Big Ten with a 9-3 record and 27 points. Penn State ranked third with 22 points. Penn State was swept when they traveled on the road Feb. 3 and 4 to play the Gophers.
Penn State came into the game off last weekend’s sweep of Wisconsin in Madison. Leading the way for them was senior captain David Goodwin, who registered four points overall and included two goals on Friday’s 6-3 victory. Denis Smirnov and Nate Sucese each netted two goals on Saturday in their 5-2 win. Their two wins came off the heels of having not won in five consecutive games.
Minnesota came off a weekend split with No. 14 Ohio State. They are led by sophomore forward Tyler Sheehy, who is eighth in the nation in points with 41. The Golden Gophers came in ranked sixth in the country in goals scored with 109 and their 3.89 goals per game average was fourth-best in the country.
Going into the series, everyone on the Golden Gophers roster except for four players are from the state of Minnesota. Only two players on the Nittany Lions are from Pennsylvania.
Freshman Peyton Jones (16-4-2) got the start in both games for Penn State, while sophomore Eric Schierhorn started both for Minnesota.
Game one began with slow play, both teams trying to get a feel for one another to start. Penn State made some bad passes and it resulted in a breakaway goal from Gopher left winger Rem Pitlick to put Minnesota up 1-0.
Minnesota’s good play ended quickly as, soon after, the Golden Gophers committed two quick penalties to give Penn State a 5-on-3. One of the penalties was a 10-minute game misconduct and ejection against left winger Brent Gates Jr., who decked Erik Autio into the boards head first. Nittany Lion leading goal scorer Andrew Sturtz quickly found the back of the net off a rebound in front of the net for his 18th goal of the year.
Sturtz also had a goal of his taken away a couple minutes later for goalie interference, the refs citing that he hit Schierhorn’s leg while scoring the goal. Upon replay, there showed minimal evidence to support the call, causing the Penn State crowd and Nittany Lion head coach Guy Gadowsky to go berserk. It was an unreviewable play. The first period came to a close tied 1-1 with both teams playing fast and Penn State playing good defense on the poke check and blocking shots.
Penn State started the second period with momentum. Five minutes in, freshman and leader in points Denis Smirnov was double teamed in the corner in Minnesota’s zone. Center Nate Sucese streaked down the middle of the ice to the goal unguarded and called to Smirnov. Smirnov made a gorgeous, behind his back, no look pass to Sucese who had an easy one-timer for the goal. After the game, Sucese talked about how Smirnov got him the puck.
“He just heard my voice and he’s a good player and can hear a body on the ice,” Sucese said.
Starting to take control and having all the momentum, the Nittany Lions quickly gave it back up when Minnesota’s Rem Pitlick tied the game at 2 after Peyton Jones let in a weak shot attempt. Pitlik’s second goal deflated the crowd in an instant.
Just over 14 minutes into the second period, a Nittany Lion defender made a horrible pass to center ice that was intercepted by Minnesota and taken the other way. Within a couple of passes, the Golden Gophers scored and took a 3-2 lead, which lasted into the third period. The play was completely preventable and allowed Minnesota to take momentum back.
In a game that was marred by multiple runs by each team, Minnesota was the team on a run for the first 10 minutes of the last period. They were controlling the puck, getting good shots on offense and flying around the ice. Penn State was doing a good job on defense by blocking shots and having a good poke check, but their offense was sloppy and nothing was crisp.
The Nittany Lions were also getting very lucky at times. Minnesota missed a wide-open breakaway that went off the top of the pipes. They also had a goal taken away that after review showed the Golden Gopher player who tipped it in had his stick above his head. The luck continued as, with 10 minutes gone by, defenseman Kris Myllari shot the puck from the blue line. The shot didn’t have much on it, but Schierhorn had bodies in front of the net and it sailed by to tie the game at 3.
That was about it for positives on Penn State’s side that night. Soon after, freshman left winger Brett Murray was called for interference and right away on the power play, Minnesota scored to take the lead. The last six minutes of the third period, the Nittany Lions just lost their way. They completely lost confidence and energy, letting in two easy goals to rip the Gopher lead to 6-3. Rem Pitlick scored one of the goals to earn a hat trick. It almost seemed like the Nittany Lions gave up or totally ran out of gas.
Penn State ended up losing 6-3 and failed to make up any ground in the Big Ten standings. Coach Gadowsky had only praises for the play of Minnesota after the game.
“I don’t think we controlled the game as well as we did last weekend,” Gadowsky said. “You have to give Minnesota credit. They are quick team and get to the puck quickly.”
He went on to say: “The biggest challenge is they are extremely good. Extremely talented and fast and good.”
Game two started later Saturday night at 8 p.m. and the Nittany Lions were looking to even the series. This was easily the most exciting, thrilling and heartbreaking game for the Nittany Lions this season.
The first period saw Penn State dominate in just about all facets. They fought harder on 50/50 plays, got to pucks faster, played great defense on the poke and fore check in the neutral zone and exert their strong, fast play on offense to great shots off.
Denis Smirnov opened the scoring with just over 4 minutes having been played, off a forced turnover that led to Smirnov having a wide open right side of the net. Peyton Jones was playing with fire and passion, making saves with every part of his body. His best play came when he blocked a Minnesota breakaway shot to keep the lead intact.
Just like last night, a Minnesota player was ejected early into the first period. Golden Gopher Joey Marooney was hit with an ugly boarding penalty, infuriating the Pegula crowd, and he was ejected after discussion. However, Penn State failed to score off the five-minute power play. The first period ended with Penn State up 1-0.
The second period saw much of the same for the Nittany Lions and much of the same for Minnesota. Jones and Schierhorn were playing solid between the pipes and Penn State continued their relentless pressure and aggressiveness on both ends of the ice. Penn State was trying to do a 180 from their performance the night before. Minnesota though continued to struggle. They were not sharp in any aspect, their passing was not crisp, they could not get any offense going and they were not as fast as they usually were. The Nittany Lions defense kept doing a solid job, especially on the penalty kill by not allowing Minnesota to set anything up.
Peyton Jones just seemed to get stronger as the period went on, easily playing his best game of the season. The captain David Goodwin scored the second goal for Penn State off a fast break rebound on the right side of the net to make the lead 2-0. They missed out on a huge opportunity when they had a 5-on-3 power play and failed to score. This missed opportunity would come back to haunt them…
The third period began with Penn State leading 2-0 and leading in shots 28-18, well below their season average of 46 per game but not too far off pace. Minnesota immediately came out with more aggression and fire, knowing they had to get back in the game.
Minnesota’s Jake Bischoff ripped a goal past Jones to get the Golden Gophers on the board just over 5 minutes into the period. Penn State was now tasked with winning in a fashion they were not used to: defense. All season, they had been used to scoring 5-6+ goals a game and winning with offense and puck control. Now, with their shots down, they needed to dig in and dial up their defense like they had been doing so far in the game.
The Nittany Lions kept pelting Schierhorn with good shots, but Minnesota just got faster and faster when they had the puck. Every time they went down the ice, they got good looks and shots on Jones and threatened to score each time. Once the game went under three minutes, things got crazy.
First, Big Ten leader in points Tyler Sheehy netted the game-tying goal with 2:11 remaining. With everyone thinking overtime, Minnesota was called for a delayed penalty. While Penn State possessed the puck before the penalty was called, Denis Smirnov broke away on a fast break but was tripped up in the open ice with 1:24 remaining in the third. You know what that meant: penalty shot.
On the penalty shot, Smirnov, arguably Penn State’s deadliest player, deked out Schierhorn and put it between his legs as he was falling to the ice. Penn State had the lead back with just over a minute left in the third period.
After a minute of a Minnesota empty net and Penn State failing to score on it while playing disruptive defense, it came down to one faceoff with about seven seconds left. Penn State sent out Chase Berger, one of the best faceoff men in the Big Ten. It was win and get a shot off or lose it and lose the game for Minnesota.
Minnesota won the faceoff, got the puck to captain Justin Kloos and scored to tie the game with 3.5 seconds. You couldn’t have written a script as exhilarating as the last two minutes of this game.
The game went to overtime and the Pegula crowd was stunned. Freshman center Nikita Pavlychev earned a tripping penalty 38 seconds into the overtime period and with about a minute and a half remaining, Rem Pitlick put it past Jones to win the game 4-3. It was Pitlick’s fourth goal of the series. In heartbreaking fashion, the Nittany Lions gave up a game they had in the bag for 58 and a half minutes of play.
Coach Gadowsky was upset after the loss, but acknowledged this type of game was not uncharted territory for him and his team was going to move forward off it.
“It’s a tough one, but not the first tough one and certainly not the last,” Gadowsky said. “This is the best we have ever been and there is a lot of motivation out of tonight.”
Captain David Goodwin was taken aback by the thrill and energy-filled game.
“Lots of ups and downs,” Goodwin said. “That was the most emotional roller coaster ride I’ve ever been a part of.”
The weekend sweep pushed the Nittany Lions to winless in five of their last seven games now. Denis Smirnov came out of the series with five points to raise his point total to 39. Minnesota’s Tyler Sheehy upped his Big Ten point lead to 45 after a five-point weekend as well.
Penn State will travel to play Michigan State next weekend, looking to bounce back on track. Minnesota will return home next weekend to play Wisconsin.
Matthew Harvey is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and history. To contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.