Veterans shine on Veterans Day as Gophers rally to split with Penn State
Trailing in the second period, the Minnesota Gophers got goals from two of their more experienced forwards to overcome red-hot Penn State and head out on a six-game road trip on a high note.
MINNEAPOLIS — The Veterans Day holiday officially had nothing to do with what happened on the ice at the Minnesota Gophers’ home rink on Friday. But in desperate need of an offensive spark, the Gophers’ veterans stepped up and helped Minnesota earn a split with red-hot Penn State.
Bryce Brodzinski scored twice, just 66 seconds apart, to break a third-period deadlock, and the Gophers beat the Nittany Lions 3-1 in the finale of their two-game series.
"We were a lot better tonight. When the game was kind of quiet, we hung in there until we could get a power-play goal," Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. "We're playing (against) a very veteran, very good hockey team and then our veterans took over. That's what we needed."
Mason Nevers added a power-play goal and goalie Justen Close had 33 saves as the Gophers improved to 8-4-0 overall and 4-2-0 in the Big Ten.
It was just the second loss of the season for the Nittany Lions (10-2-0, 4-2-0), who got an outstanding 30-save night from goalie Liam Souliere but saw their early lead disappear. The Lions had won 4-2 on Thursday.
"I liked the way we came out," said Lions coach Guy Gadowsky. "But obviously if you have to kill that many penalties in a row — especially against a team as talented as Minnesota — you're going to pay, and that's what happened."
After getting caught flat-footed in the opening 20 minutes on Thursday, the Gophers had a more concerted offensive effort in the first period on Friday, but still found themselves trailing after 20 minutes. Christian Sarlo got the Lions on the board after a nice pass from behind the net by Ashton Calder.
The Lions controlled the game for long stretches in the middle period, then ran into penalty trouble which opened the door for Minnesota to tie the game. Nevers got his fifth of the season on the power play by tipping a Mike Koster shot past Souliere.
Brodzinski, the former Minnesota Mr. Hockey winner, scored on back-to-back shifts, both times with Jaxon Nelson feeding him the puck.
"Nellie rose to the challenge and that's what we needed," Motzko said. "Our young guys are going to get better from playing this (game), but we weren't going to rise to the challenge without our older guys."
The Lions put Souliere on the bench for an extra attacker with more than three minutes to play, but could not get another puck past Close.
Older guys from Omaha
On the surface, Brodzinski and Nelson wouldn't seem to have much in common. One (Brodzinski) is a suburban kid from a hockey powerhouse (Blaine). The other is a farm boy from a tiny town (Magnolia) that most Minnesotans couldn't locate on a map.
But in the 2018-19 season, this odd couple found themselves as teammates and linemates for a few games with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL, and an immediate bond formed.
"I think we played in a tournament together when we were maybe 10 years old and we played together in Omaha for a couple games," Nelson recalled. "We kind of got some chemistry there. The last couple years we haven't really played together but this year we came back and we're doing really well now."
The pair are roommates in an off-campus house, and Brodzinski said they have developed a brother-like bond.
"A couple of times when my mom has asked me who's my best friend on the team, I've always said him," Brodzinski said. "He's the guy if something funny happens in my day, I text him and tell him."
They both said there is also a freedom to "yell at each other" when mistakes are made, knowing that they will be fine eventually.
Motzko's move to put the two on a line is looking like a chemistry experiment that may have some staying power.
Healthy scratches from the Gophers lineup on Friday were forwards Carl Fish, John Mittelstadt and Colin Schmidt, and defenseman Matt Staudacher.
The Gophers next head out on the road, where they will play their next six games. The journey begins on Thursday and Friday, Nov. 17-18, with a pair of games at Michigan. Minnesota’s next home game is Dec. 9 versus Wisconsin.
The game was delayed for a little under seven minutes in the third period after a collision between Minnesota’s Logan Cooley and Penn State’s Chase McLane caused a pane of glass in front of Section 22 to shatter. A crew of seven, led by arena manager Craig Flor and Adam Stirn, the rink's lead ice maker, cleaned up the broken glass and installed a new panel before the game resumed with 7:50 to play.
Minnesota 3, Penn State 1
Penn State 1-0-0—1
First period — 1. PS, Christian Sarlo 2 (Xander Lamppa), 13:42. Penalties — Ture Linden, PS (hooking), 10:26; Ashton Calder, PS (tripping), 14:12.
Second period — 2. MN, Mason Nevers 5 (Mike Koster, Luke Mittelstadt), 16:50, (PP). 2. MN, Matthew Knies 7 (Jimmy Snuggerud, Ryan Johnson), 13:31, (PP). Penalties — Mike Koster, MN (hooking), 4:42; Matthew Knies, MN (hooking), 8:02; Kevin Wall, PS (hooking), 8:46; Paul DeNaples, PS (hooking), 18:29.
Third period — 3. MN, Bryce Brodzinski 4 (Jaxon Nelson), 6:55. 4. MN, Brodzinski 5 (Nelson), 8:01. Penalties — Bench (served by Lamppa), PS (too many men), 4:16; Knies, MN (holding), 13:26.
Shots on goal — MN 7-13-13—33 PS 10-13-11—34. Goalies — Justen Close, MN (34 shots-33 saves); Liam Souliere, PS (33-30). Power plays — MN 1-of-6, PS 0-of-3. Referees — Andrew Bruggeman, Brett DesRosiers. Linesmen — Nicholas Bradshaw, Samuel Shikowsky. Att. — 8,921.