In the battle of one of college hockey’s oldest powers against the new upstart program, old won out and decidedly so, as Minnesota dominated Penn State on their way to a 5-1 victory over the Nittany Lions at Mariucci Arena.
The first period was tight as the two teams tested each other out in the match-up of two top-ten-ranked teams. But Minnesota broke through late in the first period on a goal by Vinni Lettieri, and extended their lead 54 seconds into the second period.
The 2-0 lead forced Penn State to gamble offensively, which only led to a series of odd-man rushes for the Gophers. Rem Pitlick would clean up the rebound on one such rush to make it 3-0, and after a Trevor Hamilton goal by Penn State, Tyler Sheehy finished off a 2-on-1 with 4.1 seconds remaining in the second period to give Minnesota a commanding 4-1 lead.
Mike Szmatula added a late power play goal in a mostly quiet third period to give Minnesota a commanding victory, and keep the Gophers tied with Wisconsin atop the Big Ten standings.
The two teams meet again tomorrow evening to close out their series.
Notes and Thoughts
-Penn State is a very nice hockey team, but by this point, I think it’s become pretty clear that any talk of them as the best team in the country was entirely due to the weak schedule that they played. They just don’t have the top-end talent to compete with Minnesota’s top two lines, and were completely out-classed all night.
College hockey is funny, and tomorrow evening might be a completely different story—in fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was—but tonight, Penn State just didn’t look that great. They’ve done enough work that I still think they’ll make the tournament, but they’d be a team I wouldn’t mind seeing in my bracket if I was another tournament team.
-Part of that is that Penn State’s “shoot it from anywhere” strategy just isn’t that effective against a team capable of skating and retrieving pucks like Minnesota is. There were a of one-and-dones on Penn State perimeter shots tonight, and they got literally nothing on goal from the prime scoring areas until they opened things up midway through the game and were giving up two high-quality chances for every decent chance they generated offensively.
-It was a bit strange that Penn State started their normal back-up Chris Funkey over regular starter Peyton Jones tonight, and if people wake up tomorrow and look at the final score and shot totals, some might assumed Funkey played a large role in the loss. But Funkey was definitely not the problem for Penn State tonight. I wouldn’t give any goalie much of a chance on any of the five goals he gave up, and I thought he actually made some really big saves to keep the score 3-1 in the second period when Penn State was giving up a lot of odd-man rushes.
-I mentioned the dominance of Minnesota’s top two lines. By this point, it’s no surprise to see a great game from Vinni Lettieri, Tyler Sheehy, Leon Bristedt, or Justin Kloos. But it’s worth mentioning that I thought Taylor Cammarata had his most productive game I’ve seen from him in a long time. His slow disappearance over the past four years has been very disappointing, but tonight, he looked like the old Taylor Cammarata, making incredible passes to find guys all over the ice, and was rewarded with a nice assist.
17:22 Vinni Lettieri from Taylor Cammarata and Ryan Collins 1-0 Minnesota
Minnesota established a cycle in the Penn State zone, and Cammarata was able to sneak a pass across the Penn State crease to an open Lettieri. Lettieri made a move to his backhand to score the goal.
0:54 Rem Pitlick from Jake Bischoff and Tyler Sheehy 2-0 Minnesota
Bischoff took an indirect shot off the back boards from the left point. The ricochet went through traffic and onto Pitlick’s backhand. He roofed the shot over Funkey for the goal.
4:33 Rem Pitlick from Justin Kloos and Tyler Sheehy 3-0 Minnesota
Following a Minnesota 3-on-1 opportunity, Minnesota created a scramble situation in front of the net, and as the PSU defense cleared Kloos out of the front of the net, that left the puck free for Pitlick to clean up the rebound for a goal.
8:42 Trevor Hamilton from David Goodwin and Andrew Sturtz 3-1 Minnesota
Hamilton took a pass on a three-on-two on the right wing and took a wrist shot from the top of the circle that picked the upper left corner over Schierhorn.
19:55 Tyler Sheehy from Justin Kloos and Jake Bischoff 4-1 Minnesota
With a two-on-one late in the period, Sheehy fed a pass across to Kloos on the right wing, and Kloos made a nice pass back to Sheehy for a tap-in on the left side of the net.
17:37 Mike Szmatula from Jake Bischoff and Eric Schierhorn 5-1 Minnesota
Szmatula took a shot from the high slot that was deflected by a Penn State defender. The shot hit off the post, but bounced of Funkey’s skate and back into the goal.