Penn State sweeps Minnesota, advances to Big Ten semifinals

Sentinel photo by STEVE MANUEL
Minnesota’s Brannon McManus shoots point blank at Penn State goaltender Peyton Jones, Saturday at Univesity Park.

UNIVERSITY PARK — If game one in a best-of-three series was a thriller, game two might have just been the game of the year so far in 2018 for the Penn State men’s hockey team.

Despite three lead changes and a six-goal second period, Penn State was able to survive and advance, winning 6-5 over Minnesota and moving on to the Big Ten semifinals.

The Nittany Lions advance in the Big Ten hockey tournament and travel to Notre Dame Saturday for a single-elimination semifinal.

With Penn State scoring 15 goals — two being open-net — in their last three games against Minnesota, Golden Gophers coach Don Lucia decided to sit starting goaltender Mat Robson and start Eric Schierhorn. The decision did not go well off the bat.

Just 16 seconds in, Trevor Hamilton’s rip from the point snipe beat Schierhorn giving Penn State a 1-0 lead with the Pegula crowd erupting and Penn State’s student section the “Roar Zone” taunting Minnesota’s backup goaltender.

The Lions didn’t stop there as Alex Limoges danced around the Gophers and sent the puck toward the net where Evan Barrett and Liam Folkes were fighting for the rebound. Folkes eventually tapped it in for the easy goal and gave Penn State a 2-0 lead and all the momentum just 13 minutes into regulation.

The line of Folkes-Barratt-Limoges have found their rhythm, having scored nine of Penn State’s 21 goals in the past four games against the Gophers.

“I don’t think there’s anything I can say right now that would do what what they’ve done justice and in the clutch,” Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said. “It’s very fitting that that line got the winner, they were awesome.”

For the fourth straight meeting between the two teams, someone was ejected from the game. This time it was Brett Murray of Penn State, who was assessed a late hit to the head on Minnesota’s Leon Bristedt.

The penalty came at a costly time for the Lions as they had to end the first and start the second period down a man allowing the momentum to swing back and forth.

For the third time on power play in the series, it was once again Casey Mittelstadt who lit the lamp to cut Penn State’s lead in half. It seemed Minnesota might have gained some confidence just two minutes into the second period, but Penn State’s offense was too much to handle yet again.

Minnesota winger Brent Gates was called for hooking with not much time left on the major, giving the Nittany Lions a power play of their own and Evan Barratt continued to terrorize the Golden Gophers. From a perfect feed from Limoges, Barratt slapped the puck into a wide open net, giving the Lions a 3-1 lead.

With the Lions looking like they were in control of the game even without Murray, the Gophers started to turn it on with an offensive onslaught of their own.

Within a four minute stretch, the Nittany Lions were caught napping on defense twice. Right off of a faceoff, Jack Ramsey found the puck in traffic and beat Peyton Jones’ glove from the opposite faceoff circle making it a one-goal game again.

The game-tying goal came from Rem Pitlick, who was able to go coast-to-coast and beat James Gobetz and got the puck past Jones from a tight angle.

Following an Alex Limoges penalty, the Gophers continued their offensive pressure. Brent Gates almost added his second as he hit the post from a nice pass by Tyler Sheehy. However, Scott Reedy wouldn’t miss his chance as Mittelstadt found him wide open for an easy tap in past Jones, giving Minnesota a 4-3 lead.

However, Nittany Lions’ senior captain James Robinson nicknamed “Jimmy Pucks” wasn’t going to let them go down easily. After a great play from Sam Sternschein, associate captain Chase Berger was leading an odd-man rush. Electing to pass, he found his captain who beat Schierhorn to tie the game at four.

“Jimmy came up behind me when we were shaking hands and he looked up and said ‘What a night here at Pegula’,” Gadowsky said. “It meant a lot to him. I think (the atmosphere) registered very strong with him.”

With six goals scored in the second period, the third was set to excite the home crowd at Pegula Ice Arena.

Penn State’s defense was caught napping again as a poor-timed line change gave Minnesota a three-on-one rush. Mittelstadt was once again on top of his game as he diced Kris Myllari and found Scott Reedy for the for tap into a wide open net.

The chippiness between the two teams once again came into play with the penalty box starting to fill up for both sides.

After Brandon Biro left the penalty box following his interference penalty, he got back on defense, knocked the puck away from the Gophers and started the attack.

On the other end, Biro received the puck from Nate Sucese and he turned it from behind the net and into the back of net to tie the game at five with just over 12 minutes remaining.

But it was once again Evan Barratt who scored his fourth goal in the last three games against the Gophers, after he rebounded home his own shot to give the Lions the lead again while sending Pegula into a frenzy.

“Anytime you hear the crowd get like that after the puck hits the net, you can’t help yourself go crazy. It was a great play by Liam [Folkes] and fortunately we got a good bounce,” Barratt said. “Anytime you can play at home, this environment can have more fun. It’s always fun playing [Minnesota] at home.”

The Gophers became desperate to avoid elimination continuing to challenge Peyton Jones and the Penn State defense. Mittelstadt missed a great opportunity, hitting Jones’ mask. Jones would go on to make two huge kick saves with Kevin Kerr even having to dive on the ground to clear the puck away from the net on one of them.

With less than 2:30 left in the game, Minnesota pulled Schierhorn for the extra skater. Penn State would not crack and went to hang on to the win, moving onto the Big Ten semifinals.

Notes: In the other Big Ten hockey quarterfinal series, Ohio State swept Michigan State and Michigan swept Wisconsin. Those two will meet at Ohio State in the other Big Ten semifinal game. … The Lions have yet to get the better of the Fighting Irish, losing three and tying one in their four regular season matchups. … Cael Morris of Notre Dame — who is considered by many to be the best goaltender in the country — allowed only eight Penn State goals in those four games.