Hockey Preview: No. 10 Penn State Lions Look to Start Season Strong Against No. 11 Minnesota

By Michael Green on November 18, 2020 at 12:30 pm
Penn State defenseman Paul DeNaples (3) attempts to take the puck from Niagara forward Ludwig Stenlund (29) during the game against Niagara at Pegula Ice Arena on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. No. 10 Penn State won 8-2.
Linsey Fagan, Roar Lions Roar
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Last Season: 16-14-7 (9-8-7 B1G)
8:30 p.m. EST – THURSDAY, NOV. 19
3M Arena at Mariucci
4 p.m. EST – FRIDAY, NOV. 20
3M Arena at Mariucci
Read: Penn State Needs Talvitie to Step Up
Podcast: Penn State vs. Minnesota Preview

It may be a brand new season, but for Penn State, it oddly feels as if things are picking up right where they left off nine months ago. Back on February 22, an exciting, come-from-behind 3-2 victory over Minnesota in Hockey Valley clinched the Big Ten regular-season title for the Nittany Lions and also pushed their record against the Gophers to 3-0-1 on the season. The Lions also captured a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament and were scheduled to see that very same Minnesota team in the semi-finals for what would have been the final rematch of the season. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic arose and the rest of the season was canceled, leaving the Penn State team and its fans just to wonder about what could have been.

Fast forward nine months and the Lions finally get that rematch. Sort of.

Last season vs Minnesota

Last Season Overall Comparison
  overall record big ten record GF ga pp% pk% Pairwise ranking
Penn state 23-10-4 12-8-4 3.56 2.59 27.1% 87.5% 7th
Minnesota 16-14-7 9-8-7 2.70 2.65 16.2% 82.0% 17th




Last season, Penn State took advantage of the young Gophers squad and swept them in Minneapolis by scores of 8-2 and 6-3. That was in November when Minnesota was struggling.

By the time the two met again, in the final series of the season for Penn State, the Gophers were firing on all cylinders. Penn State managed to get the extra point in a 3-on-3 overtime session in Game One. Alex Limoges scored the winning goal with just 24 seconds left in the frame. 

Last Season Head to Head
  Record GF avg pp% pk%
Penn state 3-0-1-1 20 5.0 42.9% 87.5%
Minnesota 0-3-1-0 10 2.5 12.5% 57.1%

In the season finale, Penn State spotted the Gophers a 2-0 lead in the first period. A second-period goal by Evan Barratt cut the deficit to 2-1 and set the stage for the dramatic third period. Nikita Pavlychev scored the tying goal. Then on the next shift, set up Kevin Wall for what proved to be the game-winner.

offensive comparison

If you saw our season preview last week, you already know Penn State lost a lot of experience and a lot of points from its roster during the offseason. Head Coach Guy Gadowsky will have to figure out how to replace 58.4% of his team's scoring. Thankfully, the Lions do bring back some big guns in Alex Limoges (led the team in scoring two seasons ago), Aarne Talvitie, and Sam Sternshein (tied for the team lead in goals last season).

The wild card could be the addition of Tim Doherty, the grad transfer from Maine.  Doherty led the Black Bears in scoring last season with 37 points. The Lions hope to get similar production from him this season.

In addition to that group of upperclassmen, Penn State will be counting on several sophomores to take the next step – Kevin Wall, Connor MacEachern, Tyler Gratton, and Connor McMenamin. The team will also hope to get notable contributions from several talented freshmen.

Unlike Penn State, Minnesota brings back nine of its top-ten scorers from last season, including its top-six scorers. Junior Sammy Walker led the Gophers in scoring with 30 points. Senior Scott Reedy was their top goal-scorer with 15. Both return and hope to make life difficult for Penn State’s young and inexperienced goaltenders.

defensive comparison

On the blueline, Penn State looks to find a partner for junior Paul DeNaples. This won’t be easy as Cole Hults left the program as its all-time leading scorer among defensemen while also leading the team in +/- last season. It feels like it’s time for Clayton Phillips to shine. He is an NHL third-round pick who transferred from where? Minnesota, of course. The Lions will also be hoping to get contributions from freshmen Jimmy Dowd, Jr. and Christian Berger to fill the holes left by the graduations of James Gobetz and Kris Myllari.

The Gophers will need to replace graduates Tyler Nanne and Ryan Zuhlsdorf. Freshman Brock Faber (2nd round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings) is highly touted and should make an immediate impact. Their other freshman, Mike Koster, is not as highly touted but is still expected to play right out of the gate.

goaltender comparison

Oskar Autio and his eight games played across two seasons is the extent of the returning experience in net. Liam Soulière comes to Hockey Valley as a highly-touted recruit and former CCHA goaltender of the year. But he can’t be expected to fill the giant shoes of Peyton Jones from day one. And don’t count out Autio either. While his collegiate experience has been limited, he did look sharp in the games he played, with two shutouts already to his credit.

Minnesota brings back all three goaltenders, including senior Jack LaFontaine.  LaFontaine saw most of the playing time a season ago, but backup Jared Moe got time in 16 games and put up very similar statistics. Expect more of the same this go around.

bold prediction

Penn State finally broke through in 2019-20 and nabbed a sweep on 3M Arena at Mariucci’s large ice surface. Given all that Minnesota returns and all the losses Penn State suffered to graduation and professional contracts, it’s difficult to imagine a repeat sweep. However, it is the first game in nine months for both programs, so anything is possible. Let’s go with two tight games with each team winning one apiece, both by a score of 4-2.

Both games will be televised on the Big Ten Network – Thursday’s game at 8:30 PM ET and Friday’s at 4:00 PM ET. As always, follow @RLRblog on Twitter and check back here for coverage of the games.