With Penn State shooting from all angles, Gophers prepare to narrow the Nittany Lions' chances

Off to their best season start in program history and quickly climbing the national rankings, Penn State comes to Minneapolis with their "shoot first" style that at times has given the Minnesota Gophers fits. And for the Nittany Lions, facing the nation's top-ranked team is nothing new.

With help from defenseman Jackson LaCombe, Minnesota goalie Justen Close thwarted a scoring attempt by Penn State forward Christian Sarlo during the Gophers' 3-1 win over the Nittany Lions on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022 at Pegula Ice Arena in State College, Pa.
Mark Selders / Penn State Athletics

MINNEAPOLIS — In what would prove to be their final game of the 2021-22 season, the Penn State Nittany Lions out-played the Minnesota Gophers for long stretches of a Big Ten playoff game. Coach Guy Gadowsky and company may have deserved a better fate than a Sammy Walker goal with less than three minutes to play, which lifted the Gophers to a 3-2 win, and sent the Lions home for the off-season.

As he prepares to lead his team into the Gophers den for a Thursday-Friday series, Gadowsky is secretive about what they have been focusing on to prep for Minnesota, but admits that last March is on their minds.

“I’m not going to tell you exactly what we’re looking at, but there are a couple things that cost us last year against them,” Gadowsky said this week. “What we’re looking for as a coaching staff is to see if we’ve learned a lesson and if we’ve changed those things. I’m not going to tell you what they are, but I guess the answer is I’m looking forward to see if we’ve learned a lesson from last year.”

They play a different style than anyone you see. I know it messed me up for a couple years. And you have to deliberately play different against them.
Bob Motzko

If there is a lesson to be had about facing the top-ranked team in the nation, as the Gophers (7-3-0 overall, 3-1-0 Big Ten) are after last weekend’s sweep of Notre Dame, it’s nothing new for the Lions. Last weekend Michigan was the top-ranked team in the country and fell off that perch when Penn State beat them on Friday in State College.

If the Lions’ pre-series focus is a secret, the Gophers see no secrets in the game they are expecting from Gadowsky’s team. Since Penn State (9-1-0, 3-1-0) became a program a decade ago, they have been known as a “shoot first, shoot again, shoot from anywhere” team, which presents a challenge to opponents. Gophers coach Bob Motzko was 1-6-1 versus Penn State in his first two seasons at Minnesota, but has gone 6-1-0 against the Lions since then.


Minnesota freshman forward Aaron Huglen worked a puck through a crowd of Penn State defenders during a 4-2 Gophers win over the Nittany Lions on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Brace Hemmelgarn / University of Minnesota Athletics

“We want to defend the middle, and if they’re taking shots from outside the scoring area, that’s fine. We have to control the quality of shots that come in,” he said. “We do that best by having the puck and possessing it and transitioning the puck. They play a different style than anyone you see. I know it messed me up for a couple years. And you have to deliberately play different against them.”

Penn State, which was picked for the lower half of the Big Ten in the preseason polls, is off to the best start in program history, but the Lions have played seven of their 10 games at home in the compact, noisy Pegula Ice Arena thus far. Gadowsky admits that a trip to Minnesota where a big, hostile crowd awaits will be a great test for his team.

“I’m looking forward to seeing our response, because … we are so spoiled here. It is an incredibly fun atmosphere number one, but it’s motivating as well. It’s helpful. It’s very helpful,” he said. “This will be a different experience for us, but we’re looking forward to it and we’re curious to see how we respond.”

The Rink Live reporters discuss Bulldogs sweeping top-ranked Huskies, Minnesota running away with Big Ten, North Dakota sweeps Miami, recap of WCHA action
Needing things to do other than skate, eat and sleep during the holiday break, Colin Schmidt brought a popular board game to campus. In the six weeks since then, Catan has taken the Gophers by storm.
Minnesota Duluth scored two power play goals, but was denied a major power play in the second after losing a controversial challenge.
Trailing in the second period, the Minnesota Gophers got solid goaltending and woke up offensively to sweep their weekend series versus visiting Michigan State.
It took only nine ticks of the clock for Minnesota Gophers rookie Logan Cooley to give his team a lead, and that was just the beginning of their dominance of the Spartans on Friday.
Olivia King has been scratched from the lineup. She’s played forward. She’s been the No. 3 goalie. Whatever the role, King has accepted it and has prepared herself to help her team.
Four of the Minnesota Gophers' last five games have required overtime to settle, and while the fans and the players find 3-on-3 hockey to be vastly entertaining, their coach has seen enough.
When the Minnesota Gophers need to force overtime lately, they turn to the lanky guy on the blue line with the skills of a defenseman and the instincts of a forward. Also: WCHA honors Heise, Kaiser.
The Rink Live reporters discuss the Huskies move to No. 1 in the rankings, Bulldogs and Fighting Hawks staying put, entertaining Big 10 series, recap WCHA action
The Minnesota Gophers rallied twice in their Saturday game with Michigan, but could not find overtime magic for the second night in a row, settling for a split of their weekend Big Ten series.
A power-play goal in the final seconds of overtime was the difference-maker as the Minnesota Gophers came from behind for a critical Big Ten win over Michigan on Friday.
Bemidji State returned to its hometown rink for the first time since Dec. 3, but a contest back among the comforts of home didn’t fix what has ailed the Beavers.

As for their opponent being atop the national polls, again, that’s something the Lions are getting used to.

“We’re facing the number-one team in the nation for the second straight week. That’s fine,” Gadowsky said. “That’s what you get in the Big Ten, and that’s what we’re going to be facing for the rest of the year.”

Weekend details

Thursday and Friday’s games versus Penn State are 7 p.m. CT starts and will be televised by Bally Sports North. Former Gophers standout Ben Clymer will serve as analyst for both games with Sam Ekstrom on play-by–play.

On radio, the Gophers can be heard on 1130 AM / 103.5 FM in the Twin Cities with Wally Shaver and Frank Mazzocco in their 11th season together describing the action.

Postgame interviews with coach Motzko and Gophers players can be seen live, roughly 10 minutes after the final horn on The Rink Live’s YouTube page .


The Gophers’ rivalry with Penn State is their newest in the conference. They first played Jan. 12-13, 2014 with the top-ranked Gophers winning 3-2 and 6-2 in State College, Pa. Minnesota leads the all-time series with the Nittany Lions 21-17-1, and the Gophers were 4-1-0 head-to-head in five meetings with the Lions last season.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
What to read next
The Minnesota Gophers have lost just one of their four games in 2023, but their coach says they are still feeling the effects of nearly a month off. They face a Michigan team that senses desperation.
Also: men's team members nominated for several individual awards, Tommies new home provides potential WCHA tournament options and that football team in purple breaks Bob Motzko's heart, again.
Justen Close was busy turning aside 38 Notre Dame shots -- including a trio of breakaways -- in recording the seventh shutout of his career. He was recognized by the conference for his efforts.
While the Minnesota Gophers were scoring even strength, power play and shorthanded goals, Justen Close was posting his fourth shutout of the season in the other end of Notre Dame's rink.