By Jess Myers
MINNEAPOLIS — If scoring three or more goals in a game was a New Year’s resolution made by the Minnesota Gophers, they’re doing good work in the opening week of 2019.
The Gophers got a pair of second-period goals on Saturday, Jan. 5, and rallied from an early deficit to beat Penn State 4-1, snapping streak of five consecutive losses to the Nittany Lions.
Down 1-0 early, the Gophers (7-8-4 overall, 4-3-3-0 Big Ten) got goals from Tyler Nanne, Brent Gates, Jack Ramsey and Rem Pitlick, along with 31 saves from goalie Mat Robson, for their first conference win of the new year. In their previous 10 games, the Gophers had gone 4-0-0 when scoring three goals or more, and were 0-3-3 in games where they had scored two — a point coach Bob Motzko stressed after they scored just two in Friday night’s loss to the Lions.
“That was our best game start to finish, with our entire lineup playing just a real solid hockey game tonight,” Motzko said. “And I liked what we did last night outside of a couple (things). It was a good weekend for us to hopefully continue to grow up. They’re a good hockey team and there were just a lot of things I liked tonight.”
Chase Berger scored for the Lions (12-6-2, 4-5-1-1) and Peyton Jones had 23 saves for the visitors, who were denied by Robson glove saves at a few key points.
The Gophers got the game’s first power play, early in the first. It was nearly a disaster, when Berger got loose for a breakaway after a Gophers turnover. But Robson covered up the mistake with a save. Berger didn’t miss the next time he had a scoring chance, giving the Lions a 1-0 lead.
The goal seemed to wake up the Gophers, who buzzed around the Lions’ net for the rest of the period and answered via Nanne’s second goal of the season. Ryan Zuhlsdorf had the puck behind the net, with Nanne crashing to the goal and slapping his stick, calling for a pass. Zuhlsdorf got Nanne the puck in time for Nanne to get off a low shot, beating Jones on the glove side.
They took the lead in the second when Gates scored for the fifth consecutive game. Pitlick went hard to the net with the puck, then pulled up 15 feet short, freezing two Lion defenders, and zipped a cross-ice to Gates, who had a wide-open net to hit for his eighth goal of the season.
Ramsey, who got his first goal of the season on Friday, Jan. 4, doubled his season total before the period ended for a 3-1 Gophers lead. They were within inches of a 4-1 lead in the opening minutes of the third when a shot by Nathan Burke caromed off traffic in front of the net but was swatted away at the goal line by Lions forward Nate Sucese.
“It really seems like it is that third goal. When we’re getting the third one, we’re winning, so we need to be pushing to get that third one,” Pitlick said. “There’s no right recipe. It’s just got to go in. We got it tonight and that’s a good recipe for success for us.”
Lions coach Guy Gadowsky pulled Jones with 3:10 left and they peppered Robson until Pitlick scored into the empty net with 11 seconds to play.
“I thought we played well, but we could bury our chances, hit a couple posts, and then in the second they really came out strong and finished their opportunities,” Gadowsky said. “They’re a very skilled team and when you give them those opportunities they’re going to finish and they did. They deserved the win.”
Robson improved to 5-4-4 with the win.