Game One – Minnesota 4, Penn State 1
Game One could have gone better for the Nittany Lions. Going to Minnesota with as young and inexperienced a team as Penn State has was always going to prove difficult, and it was exactly that on Thursday night in Minneapolis.
Things started off as one might have reasonably expected as both teams spent some time just getting comfortable on the ice. Once the Gophers had felt their opponent out a bit, however, they started putting a bit more pressure on the Nittany Lion defense and forced Oskar Autio to make the first of what would be a few incredible saves on the evening. The Lions were able to kill off their first penalty of the season easily enough during all of this, but never really got much going on the offensive end. When they went on the powerplay later in the period, however, we finally saw some signs of life. Guy Gadowsky's squad was able to generate a few good chances with the man advantage, but couldn't find the back of the net.
Jonny Sorenson (1)
Scott Reedy (1)
Kevin Wall (1)
Cullen Munson (1)
Sampo Ranta (1)
The second period was a different story. Minnesota clearly felt after the first 20 minutes that they would be able to bully these young Lions a bit and they started crashing the net much harder. They snuck two by Autio in just about 10 minutes of play, though neither was truly the fault of the netminder. Things were looking up heading into the break, though, as Kevin Wall was able to convert a beautiful deke to his backhand before flipping it past goalie Jack LaFontaine to get the Lions within one.
It didn't take long for the Gophers to retake the two-goal advantage, however, with Munson burying one early in the third period to re-establish the lead. Sampo Ranta added a beautiful goal on a breakaway later on. The Lions emptied the net with about six minutes remaining, but nothing came of it, and Minnesota finally got revenge for Penn State's dominance a year ago.
Game Two – Minnesota 3, Penn State 2
The Gophers took control right away and had the Lions on their heels for much of the first half of the opening period, with an early powerplay as the catalyst. Penn State couldn't contain the crisp Minnesota passes and eventually Scott Reedy nabbed his second of the season, all alone in front of Soulière. The Lions really got themselves together, though, and had Minnesota reeling for much of the second half of the period. It culminated in Christian Sarlo's first collegiate goal, which was set up by some impressive play by fellow freshman Jared Westcott. Unfortunately, Sammy Walker got loose and beat Soulière with just a second left on the clock to take back the lead.
Scott Reedy (2) - PP
Christian Sarlo (1)
Sammy Walker (1)
Brannon McManus (1)
Kevin Wall (2)
The second period started off well-balanced between the two sides but the Gophers were able to keep the puck in the offensive end too easily, catching Penn State on long shifts a few times. Just when things seemed to be turning slightly in Penn State's favor, a Tyler Gratton boarding penalty in the offensive end gave the Gophers a powerplay. Brannon McManus made it count with a wide-open look in front of the net for another powerplay goal. Soulière had to make a few more impressive saves to keep the deficit at just two.
The third period looked the same as the others, with Minnesota controlling much of the play, but Penn State did just enough. After the Lions failed to convert on a loose puck right in front of the net, Kevin Wall sped down the lefthand side and unleashed a strong backhander that snuck between LaFontaine and the pipe to get Penn State back to a one-goal deficit.
Penn State had a pair of chances on the powerplay late in the period but just couldn't find a rhythm as they couldn't find enough space to generate enough clean shots. Soulière came to the bench with a little more than a minute remaining but the Lions never got anything going with the puck and time wound down.
- Just like football, it would have been really nice to get this Penn State team a few games against the likes of Niagara, Holy Cross, etc. Asking a team this young to go play on the big ice in Minneapolis in its first game of the season is a very tough ask.
- Jared Westcott and Christian Sarlo are going to be a deadly combination for years to come. Westcott was one of the best players on the ice in Game One and continued his strong play in Game Two, setting up Sarlo's first-period goal.
- Penn State just got caught watching too many times. Whether it was watching possession and allowing Gophers to get behind them to the net or watching the puck and waiting for it to get to them instead of going to get it, Minnesota was the most impressive team when it came to positioning and attacking.
- The good news about Penn State's new top line of Limoges-Doherty-Sternschein is that they seem to be pretty comfortable playing together. The not as good news is they were pretty quiet over the first two games. As the three most accomplished scoring threats on the roster (though Doherty's accomplishments came with a different program), the team badly needs them to lead the way on the offensive end.
- The freshmen took their lumps against Minnesota but generally looked pretty solid in their first two NCAA games. It'll take a little bit for these guys to really find their footing, but coach Guy Gadowsky has to be happy with the early returns there.
- Penn State looks to have a pair of reliable goalies in Autio and Soulière. Autio looked solid on night one, but Soulière looks like a star. The freshman stood tall on multiple sure-fire scoring chances for the Gophers and kept his team in it to the end. How Gadowsky proceeds with this rotation will be fascinating.
- Considering they were up against the team that the Big Ten coaches voted the best in the conference, this was not a bad effort overall.
- Penn States' special teams were not great in this series. The Nittany Lions were 0/3 on the power play and 0/6 on the series. Gadowsky has to focus on his special teams going into the next series against Wisconsin. Especially the penalty kill unit, which gave up two power play goals in Game 2. There was a lot of open ice for Minnesota players to skate and the Nittany Lions can't afford to give Cole Caufield any open ice especially in the slot.