By Jess Myers
MINNEAPOLIS — Penn State is known far and wide for getting many pucks to the opponents’ net. On Friday, the Nittany Lions were known as much for keeping pucks away from their own net.
The Lions blocked 21 shots bound for their goal, and their goalie stopped 30 more, which doomed the Minnesota Gophers as the visitors rallied from an early deficit for a 4-2 win in the opener of their Big Ten series.
Brent Gates gave the hosts an early lead, and Jack Ramsey got his first goal of the season in the third, but the Gophers could not come all the way back after falling behind 3-1 in the third. They got 27 saves from goalie Mat Robson.
“Penn State is a pretty good hockey team. They’ve got depth and a real deliberate style they play, throwing pucks out in the neutral zone, and we adjusted,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “Our good game was out there tonight. …They had 21 blocked shots, and that’s an older veteran team that sold out. But our good game was out there tonight.”
It was the second consecutive loss by the Gophers (6-8-4 overall, 3-3-3-0 Big Ten), and their fifth straight versus the Lions, who entered the weekend ranked ninth in the nation. Penn State (12-5-2, 4-4-1-1) got goals from Brandon Biro, Kevin Kerr, Denis Smirnov and Alex Limoges, along with those 30 saves from Peyton Jones.
The Gophers had to kill the game’s first penalty, and got the best early scoring chance when Sammy Walker had a shorthanded breakaway but could not fool Jones. They finally broke the scoreless deadlock on their second power play of the game late in the first when Gates caught a pass from behind the net and slipped a low shot between Jones’ knees.
“We’re clicking, but we still had a lot of chances we could’ve scored on, so still some room for improvement,” said Gates, who has now scored in four consecutive games. He admitted some frustration is building. “I think everyone in our locker room is sick of losing those games, the ones where we’re behind by one goal.”
The Lions tied the game early in the second when Biro was left alone with the puck at the blue line. He survived a slash by Walker and ripped a rising shot from the left circle that eluded Robson over the goalie’s left shoulder. Kerr slipped a wrist shot through traffic in front of Robson later to give the Lions a 2-1 lead. Smirnov gave the Lions a two-goal lead in the third before Ramsey got a wrist shot past Jones’ glove.
It was the first goal Ramsey had scored since last season’s finale at Penn State. Limoges scored into an empty net in the final minute.
“When you get great goaltending, it makes it a little bit easier,” Lions coach Guy Gadowsky said. “The whole team battled hard today and we had some very timely saves. He played great and the D made some big blocks as well.”
The Lions were without two key players — forwards Evan Barratt and Aarne Talvitie — who will play against each other for the USA and Finland, respectively, in Saturday’s World Junior Championship gold medal game in Vancouver. With players on both teams, Gadowsky, who is Canadian, said he is taking a decidedly neutral position on the eventual outcome.