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Big Ten Hockey: Following victory in Minneapolis, Penn State is running out of checklists

The Nittany Lions have now won games in all six Big Ten arenas.

Matt Christians/SBN College Hockey

MINNEAPOLIS- Penn State crossed off Minnesota to complete a Big Ten checklist for the second straight February.

On this occasion there was no overtime celebration, no blast of "Timber" or cheering crowd which all happened when the Nittany Lions defeated Minnesota at home in February 2015. That victory last season was its first against the Gophers and last against all five Big Ten opponents.

This time the goaltender who started his career with the club team and ended with both a Division 1 win over a school with the rich tradition of Minnesota - one 10 months removed from playing for a national championship - and a decent metaphor for the Penn State program itself through the first three seasons is gone.

After a 5-3 victory over the Gophers at Mariucci Arena to complete a checklist of wins in all six Big Ten arenas, Penn State players went back to the locker room, put on their postgame suits, grabbed their hockey bags and headed out of dodge.

Checklist number two was closer to being just business than an accomplishment to celebrate.

"It means a lot. I thought it was great," Nittany Lions head coach Guy Gadowsky told this reporter after Saturday's game. "A win here at Mariucci is a pretty big deal. Someone said the other day that there had only been one other Big Ten win here in three years. Wow."

Gadowsky was correct. Minnesota is 22-2-2 at home since the Big Ten began play in 2013-14. Prior to Saturday, the Gophers won the first five games between the two teams in Minneapolis.

Nittany Lions Zach Saar has found his timing for big moments in the Twin Cities. As a freshman at Xcel Energy Center he scored Penn State's biggest goal in program history at the time when Saar ended a 2014 Big Ten tournament double overtime game versus Michigan with the winner. Two years later and one city over his shot went off a Minnesota player and into the net for the go-ahead goal.

Then it was a moment to celebrate. Last weekend he was more even-keeled, giving credit to his teammates. It's a difference going from playing with house money to expecting to take the house for everything it has in an effort to make a notch in checklist number 3 - get a first round Big Ten bye and make the NCAA Tournament.

"It's my junior year, my third year. I definitely know first hand how powerful it is to play in Mariucci and the advantage and what a good team they are, It feels great to get that win," Saar said. "I play the way I do. You have to look at our guys, our centermen. In a short lineup those guys are going hard the whole game on the big ice with a Minnesota team that can skate as good as anybody."

To get it done in game six - a game where Penn State was shorthanded, missing four players, and gave up a shorthanded goal that Gadowsky said was his fault - required some bounces and deflections, but ones the team knew it had to put itself in position.

Before the weekend redshirt senior Eric Scheid noted Penn State needed to do more on the big Mariucci ice sheet. If the Nittany Lions didn't play its own brand of hockey - getting pucks to the net and traffic - it was going to be difficult to win at a place where none of the games had been close for the visitors.

Scheid also said a win would be meaningful to him, which as a native of the state was the only hint it would be a milestone.

"Last year being the first time we beat Minnesota it was obviously pretty special. I think it was the last team in the Big Ten that we hadn't beat yet, our first win against them. So it's a big confidence boost for the program," he said. "Obviously they're a powerhouse program every year so to come out in your second, third year and to get a win against a team like that speaks wonders about where we came as a program. If we can take another step and beat them at their own rink it would be pretty special."


Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter --