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Minnesota Undone By Slow Start in Big Ten Opener Vs. Penn State

Penn State players celebrate a goal. Matt Christians

MINNEAPOLIS – Another Friday night saw another poor start for No. 7 Minnesota, this time in the Big Ten conference opener.

Three different Nittany Lions players scored goals and sophomore goaltender Peyton Jones made 20 saves as No. 11 Penn State (1-0-0 B1G, 2-1-0 overall) defeated the Golden Gophers 3-1 Friday night, winning for just the second time ever at 3M Arena at Mariucci.

PSU head coach Guy Gadowsky, in his sixth year as the team’s coach, knows the importance of an early conference victory.

“Obviously, anytime you get any points out of Mariucci, it’s a great night for us,” Gadowsky said. “It’s an incredible, tough place to play, especially when you have to play such a great team.

“When you play a Big Ten opponent, it is a little different. To get this type of intensity early is going to benefit, but at the same time it’s a pretty long year.”

A week after coming out slow in the first period in an overtime loss to UMD, the Gophers (0-1-0, 1-2-0) came out flat-footed again and didn’t get a shot on goal until 7:55 remained in the first period. They fell behind about three minutes later and never recovered, getting outskated and out-chanced from there on out.

“It’s not something that’s sitting very well right now,” Minnesota forward Mike Szmatula said when asked about another slow start. “Obviously we’re searching to see what’s wrong.”

As bad as it has looked, however, head coach Don Lucia isn’t ready to hit the panic button yet. He believes his group of players will snap out of it, but there’s work to be done.

“There’s a whole host of things that need to be corrected. They want to do it,” Lucia said. “We’ve gotta change the way we’re playing.”

The game started off slowly for Minnesota, not recording a shot on goal until 7:55 remained in the first period. Meanwhile, Penn State established their forecheck after the first few minutes, testing Minnesota goaltender Eric Schierhorn early.

After a strange sequence of events in which Penn State’s James Robinson sat for charging and roughing, Jack Sadek for roughing and Brent Gates and Nate Sucese for successive hooking calls, the Nittany Lions got on the board first. After all the minors expired, Andrew Sturtz skated in the slot toward the goal, deked Schierhorn and beat him stick-side on a nifty backhand shot at 15:03.

The Gophers upped their offensive zone pressure more early in the second period, but just as it looked like they were ready to climb back in the game, the Minnesota bench took a too-many-men minor and Denis Smirnov made them pay with a wicked wrister from the left circle to double the Nittany Lions lead.

On the next chance for the Gophers, they couldn’t cash in and Rem Pitlick took a killer penalty for goaltender interference. Then Minnesota’s Leon Bristedt checked Penn State defenseman James Gobetz into the boards in the Gopher zone 1:13 later, drawing a five-minute major and a game misconduct. Three seconds after Pitlick came back out, PSU increased their lead to three on a goal by Nikita Pavlychev.

“We got a little talking to after the second [period],” said Minnesota forward Darian Romanko. “Nothing bad, but we just gotta figure some stuff out.”

A beautiful pass from Romanko behind the net to Ryan Norman in front finally put Minnesota on the board with just over 11 minutes remaining in regulation, but it wasn’t nearly enough to salvage a victory.

The Gophers clearly missed junior captain Tyler Sheehy, who suffered an injury in practice this week. Lucia said after the game that his status is week-to-week.

Penn State and Minnesota will conclude their series at 3 p.m. on Sunday.

Scoring summary:

1st period

PSU goal at 15:03: Andrew Sturtz (1). Unassisted.

2nd period:

PSU power-play goal at 3:06: Denis Smirnov (2). Assisted by Erik Autio (1) and Alex Limoges (2).

PSU PP goal at 9:38: Nikita Pavlychev (1). Assisted by Cole Hults (1) and Smirnov (3).

3rd period:

MINN goal at 8:57: Ryan Norman (1). Assisted by Darian Romanko (2) and Ryan Zuhlsdorf (1).

Power plays: PSU 2-3, MINN 0-5.

Shots on goal: PSU 26, MINN 21.