MINNEAPOLIS – While special teams were better compared to last week, the Golden Gophers now need to figure out how to score some even-strength goals.
They managed to get one on Friday night, but untimely defensive mistakes allowed the 9th-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions to take control of the game in the second period, and they went on to beat Minnesota 4-2 at 3M Arena at Mariucci in front of 7,375 fans.
It was a better overall effort for the Gophers, but head coach Bob Motzko was quick to credit the success of Penn State’s game as well.
“Penn State’s a pretty good hockey team. They got depth and real deliberate style that they play,” Motzko said. “Our good game was out there tonight.”
Brent Gates had yet another power-play goal for the Gophers, continuing his recent success on the man advantage. But a third-period surge couldn’t make up for an uneven start, and the older and more experienced Nittany Lions also blocked 21 shots to beat Minnesota for the fifth straight time and seventh time in eight meetings.
Penn State had the better play offensively to start the night, but two penalties taken by Alec Marsh allowed Minnesota to take control of the final ten minutes of the first period. The Gophers got some good looks on their power play chances, and the second one led to a goal by Gates, his third power-play goal in as many games after having just two all of last season.
In the second period, Penn State took advantage of a Minnesota turnover, and Alec Marsh found Brandon Biro all alone on the blue line on the other end. Biro went in, got taken down by Sammy Walker and still beat Gophers goaltender Mat Robson top-shelf to tie the game. Then defenseman Kevin Kerr gave the Nittany Lions the lead with his first goal of the season to make it 2-1 after two periods.
Minnesota’s defense got somewhat lax to begin the third period, and Denis Smirnov made them pay by one-timing a feed from Ludvig Larsson behind the net to push the lead to two goals. Motzko wasn’t thrilled about how that play developed.
“Totally inexcusable in big games,” he said. “Make them earn a goal.”
The Gophers got back on the scoreboard with just under 13 minutes left as Jack Ramsey finally cracked the scoresheet for the first time in 18 games this season. It’s safe to say his coaches and teammates are glad he finally got that giant monkey off his back.
“He’s due. It was a nice one, a really nice one,” Gates said.
As for Ramsey himself, you shouldn’t expect him to celebrate.
“Heck no,” he laughed when asked about if he had a celebration prepared.
Still, he’s relieved to put that slump behind him.
“It felt great. To see one go in, it’s a good way to start post-Christmas break,” he said.
Minnesota ramped up their intensity down the stretch, but ultimately couldn’t get the equalizer and Alex Limoges finished it off with 18 seconds left on an empty-net goal.
Robson finished with 27 saves for Minnesota, and Peyton Jones had 30 for Penn State.
The Nittany Lions and Golden Gophers conclude their weekend series at 7:07 PM CT on Saturday night.
MINN power-play goal at 17:16: Brent Gates (7). Assisted by Tyler Sheehy (9) and Sampo Ranta (4).
PSU goal at 3:29: Brandon Biro (7). Assisted by Alec Marsh (2).
PSU goal at 8:09: Kevin Kerr (1). Assisted by Ludvig Larsson (7) and Evan Bell (1).
PSU goal at 1:23: Denis Smirnov (5). Assisted by Ludvig Larsson (8) and Nate Sucese (10).
MINN goal at 7:17: Jack Ramsey (1). Assisted by Ryan Norman (1) and Jack Sadek (8).
PSU empty-net goal at 19:42: Alex Limoges (11). Unassisted.
Power plays: PSU 0-3, MINN 1-5.
Shots on goal: PSU 31, MINN 32.