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On a roll, Gophers look for a change of fortunes at Penn State

During his time in the USHL, Bob Motzko's teams had trouble with one particular opponent. It has been the same during his time in the Big Ten, where Penn State has been a challenging place for his Gophers to play

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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

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Napoleon famously had his Waterloo – a place where he could not win despite all of his battlefield triumphs elsewhere. During his years of coaching in the USHL, with stints at North Iowa and Sioux Falls, Bob Motzko also had his Waterloo. In the case of the Minnesota Gophers’ coach, it was Waterloo, Iowa, where his teams always struggled.

In his three-plus seasons as coach of the Gophers, Motzko’s Big Ten Waterloo might be in the middle of the central Pennsylvania mountains. He has won road games in the conference’s other five buildings, but is 0-3-1 in two trips to Penn State. (The Gophers’ scheduled games at Pegula Arena last season were canceled due to the pandemic.)

Not one to believe in jinxes or take any extreme measures to try to change the Gophers’ fortunes at Penn State, Motzko was more philosophical this week, noting that some baseball players hit well in certain ballparks and some hockey players just find a way to score in certain rinks.

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“We’ve got to find a way to keep going this weekend,” Motzko said.

That is an acknowledgement that things are currently going about as well as they have all season for the Gophers, who have won a season-best four in a row despite having three key players gone at the Olympics, and having lost forward Jaxon Nelson to a leg injury for more than a month.

Nelson is expected back in the lineup this weekend, and the three Olympians began their long journey home from China on Thursday morning. It is a long shot, but they may be able to get to Penn State and play for the Gophers by Saturday. As is usually the case when facing the run-and-gun Nittany Lions, any and all sources of offense are welcomed.

“I think we’ll be prepared for it. It’s obviously a weekend that you look forward to. There’s a little bit more open ice,” said Gophers forward Bryce Brodzinski, noting that the Lions are a sharp departure from the past three weekends where the Gophers have faced defense-first teams Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State. “I think if we play kind of a defensive style, it will provide a lot of opportunities for us on offense.”

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The Lions are coming off a bye week and will be without sophomore forward Chase McLane for the rest of the season as a result of a lower body injury. With a 13-14-1 overall mark, Penn State will be on the road for the opening round of the Big Ten playoffs, meaning this series will be their last shot on home ice. They split a series at Minnesota in November.

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Since they became a Division I program in 2012, Guy Gadowsky (center) is the only head coach Penn State as had and he led the Nittany Lions to their first Big Ten regular season title in 2020.
Craig Houtz / Penn State Athletics

“We won at Mariucci early and I thought we played a good game, but for us it’s hard to benchmark back then. That was a while ago,” said Lions coach Guy Gadowsky, who led his team to the Big Ten title in 2020. “For us to play better, specifically for our team right now, I hate to admit it but we’re still a little bit fragile and if we get ourselves in penalty trouble, we get frustrated.”

With the Gophers taking the fewest penalties in the conference on average, Gadowsky thinks playing “hard but clean” will be a key if he is to extend his home unbeaten streak versus Motzko.

“That’s a key for us against Minnesota. They’re obviously an extremely talented team and if you give them opportunities on the power play, you’re going to pay,” he said. “At the same time, you have to play hard. So for us the challenge is walking that line.”

READ MORE MINNESOTA GOPHERS COVERAGE:
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The Gophers will be without defenseman Ben Brinkman for Friday’s game as the senior serves a one-game suspension meted out by the conference office after a hit late in last Saturday’s 5-1 win at Ohio State.

Weekend details

Friday’s game at Penn State is a 5:30 p.m. CT start, while the Saturday rematch faces off at 5 p.m. CT. Both games will be broadcast by Big Ten Network with Dan Kelly and Paul Caponigri on the call.

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

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

The Gophers lead the all-time series versus Penn State with a 18-16-1 record. Their first-ever meeting came on Jan. 12, 2014, when the top-ranked Gophers prevailed 3-2 at Pegula Arena.

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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