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Down by three, Gophers roar back to sweep Nittany Lions for sixth straight win

The Minnesota Gophers got a pre-game boost with the return of their three Olympians, then gave themselves a boost in the final 40 minutes, climbing out of a deep hole to sweep at Penn State for the first time since 2017.

With defenseman Ryan Johnson (23) standing guard, Minnesota goalie Justen Close fought off traffic from Penn State's Carson Dyck (7) and Xander Lamppa (9) in the Gophers' 6-4 win over the Nittany Lions on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022 at Pegula Ice Arena in State College, Pa.
Heather Weikel / The Rink Live

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Like a gambler who refuses to fold even when the odds are stacked against them, the Minnesota Gophers refused to go away quietly on Saturday night.

Trailing by three goals before a hostile audience at Penn State, Minnesota mounted a stirring comeback, scoring five of the next six and emerging with an improbable 6-4 win over the Nittany Lions.

It was the sixth consecutive with by the Gophers, who were bolstered by the return of forward Ben Meyers and defenseman Brock Faber to their lineup, after the two had played for Team USA at the Winter Olympics in China earlier in the week. Meyers had a trio of assists in the game.


Goalie Justen Close improved to 9-3-0 since taking over the starting role, with 23 saves for the Gophers (21-11-0 overall, 16-6-0 Big Ten). They got two goals from Grant Cruikshank for their first sweep at Penn State since 2017.

The Gophers' coach had a simple message for his team, after they trailed 3-0 at the first intermission.

"All we said we either let's start the plane and go home, or let's start playing, and we started playing," said Gophers coach Bob Motzko, noting their first goal changed the momentum. "It was a great play by Mike Koster and then you could just feel our bench kind of lift and now we had a hockey game. And we clawed our way back."

Penn State fell to 14-17-1 overall and 5-16-1 in the conference.

The Lions already led 1-0 on a tap-in goal by Danny Dzhaniyev just 121 seconds into the game when they displayed the quick-strike offense that has been their hallmark during Penn State’s decade in the Big Ten.

Back-to-back goals by Ryan Kirwan and Tyler Paquette just 14 seconds apart made it a three-goal hill to climb for the Gophers. It was the first time they had trailed by three or more goals since a 4-1 loss to Michigan nearly a month ago.


It didn’t last long, as the Gophers flipped the script in the middle period. The rally began when Mike Koster made a stick-handling move to the net, trying to tuck the puck behind the Penn State goalie, then banking it off the stick of a Lions defender to make it 3-1. Then Blake McLaughlin blasted a high shot after a pass from Ben Brinkman to make it 3-2.

The Lions got one back on a wide angle shot through traffic that Close didn’t see, but Cruikshank again made it a one-goal game after a cross-ice pass from Koster. The Gophers completely dominated the final 20 minutes, out-shooting Penn State 14-4 and getting a trio of goals, including a power play marker from Aaron Huglen.

"I think we just got back to our game," said Cruikshank, who had his first multi-point game as a Gopher. "I don't know if 'asleep' is the right word but we just weren't competing in the first, getting out-worked. We kind of just re-grouped at the first intermission, came back out and started playing our game."

The first line charts released by the Gophers prior to the game also included forward Matthew Knies, who had traveled to State College from China with Faber and Meyers. Knies was then scratched prior to the game and replaced by Colin Schmidt. For the second consecutive night, freshman forward Chaz Lucius was scratched with a lower body injury.

Minnesota captain Sammy Walker fought off a challenge from Penn State's Adam Pilewicz during the Gophers' 6-4 win over the Nittany Lions on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022 at Pegula Ice Arena in State College, Pa.
Heather Weikel / The Rink Live

"The team played so well when we were gone, it's just going to be great getting home to get some rest," said Meyers, who had 34 hours in the air to get back from China. "We've been in the airport and on planes and got here and just got ready to go and play a hockey game."

The Gophers close out their regular season slate next weekend at home with a two-game series versus Border Battle rival Wisconsin.


Minnesota 6, Penn State 4

Minnesota 0-3-3—6

Penn State 3-1-0—4

First period — 1. PS, Danny Dzhaniyev 6 (Tyler Gratton, Dylan Lugris), 2:01. 2. PS, Ryan Kirwan 11 (Ben Schoen, Kevin Wall), 10:33. 3. PS, Tyler Paquette 9 (Connor MacEachern, Connor McMenamin), 10:47. Penalties — Jimmy Dowd, Jr., PS (10-misconduct), 20:00.

Second period — 4. MN, Mike Koster 2 (Tristan Broz, Ben Brinkman), 4:39. 5. MN, Blake McLaughlin 12 (Brinkman, Sammy Walker), 12:27. 6. PS, Xander Lamppa 2 (Carson Dyck, Christian Berger), 14:53. 7. MN, Grant Cruikshank 5 (Koster, Ben Meyers), 17:27. Penalties — None.

Third period — 8. MN, Aaron Huglen 6 (Meyers, Jackson LaCombe), 4:41, (pp). 9. MN, LaCombe 2 (Walker, Bryce Brodzinski), 8:27. 10. MN, Cruikshank 6 (Meyers), 19:21. (en). Penalties — Dzhaniyev, PS (hooking), 3:22; Berger, PS (slashing), 8:27.

Shots on goal — MN 7-13-14—34; PS 14-9-4—27. Goalies — Justen Close, MN (27 shots-23 saves); Oskar Autio, PS (34-28). Power plays — MN 1-of-2, PS 0-of-0 Referees — Colin Kronforst, Brett Desrosiers. Linesmen — Tommy George, Johnathan Morrison. Att. — 6,216.


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 jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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