Minnesota splits games with Penn State in first Big Ten series

The Gophers picked up a loss Friday, but avenged it Sunday.

Forward Casey Mittelstadt follows the puck during the Gophers' game against Penn State on Sunday at 3M Arena at Mariucci. The Gophers won 6-3.

Jack Rodgers

Forward Casey Mittelstadt follows the puck during the Gophers’ game against Penn State on Sunday at 3M Arena at Mariucci. The Gophers won 6-3.

Drew Cove

Two different starts brought two different results for Minnesota in the first weekend of Big Ten play. 

Minnesota (2-2-0, 1-1-0 Big Ten) split its first Big Ten series of the season with Penn State (2-2-0, 1-1-0 Big Ten), losing 3-1 Friday and winning 6-3 Sunday.

“I thought we had really good energy from the get go,” said head coach Don Lucia Sunday. “Brannon, who we know [has] got a good stick, and can really shoot a puck, made some nice shots tonight.”

The Gophers’ win Sunday was capped by a third period hat trick from freshman Brannon McManus. The three goals marked McManus’ first three tallies for Minnesota in just his third game with the team. 

With McManus’ hat trick, forward Casey Mittelstadt and defenseman Sam Rossini both scored, meaning five of the Gophers six goals came from freshmen.

Rossini’s short-handed goal was his first with the Gophers, and it came in his official debut for the team. Rossini, the extra defenseman Sunday, had to slot into the game because of a number of absences in the series.

The Gophers went without captain Tyler Sheehy for both games, forward Scott Reedy was out Sunday with injury, and assistant captain Leon Bristedt was suspended for Sunday’s game for his check from behind penalty on Friday.

No. 7 Minnesota lacked play down deep in the offensive zone to score against No. 11 Penn State Friday, but on Sunday, they got a goal directly as a result of hard work below the goal line. Brent Gates Jr. scored the goal to put the Gophers up 2-0 late in the first period.

“That’s what we have been preaching,” Gates said Sunday. “Getting the puck low, and work hard, outwork their [defense], and it’s nice to see that finally start happening.”

Minnesota loses opener

The Gophers’ offense didn’t fare as well Friday as it did Sunday.

“We’re definitely not a finished product, that’s for sure,” Lucia said Friday.

The team didn’t record a shot until nearly 12 minutes into the opening period Friday night.

Penn State’s offense was clicking, though, and scored three goals, and one from the team’s returning leader in points, sophomore Denis Smirnov. On top of the slow start on offense, the Gophers had many defensive mistakes early, including turnovers at the offensive blue line.

“I don’t think we [took advantage of turnovers],” said Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky Friday. “I think we got a couple bounces that went our way, and a couple beautiful goals. We were opportunistic, and got a few bounces [Friday].”

No. 7 Minnesota also saw its defense give away pucks with errant passing in the defensive zone, and gave up chances to break out or allow Penn State to get chances close to the goal.

Assistant captain Mike Szmatula wasn’t happy with the team’s offensive unit.

“It’s not something that is sitting very well,” Szmatula said Friday. “Our [defensemen are] the guys that are getting it done, they’re working together as a unit below the goal line. I think [the offense] should take something out of their book.”

Notably for the Gophers, the usual scoring suspects for the team didn’t produce any points. 

The lone goal was scored by forward Ryan Norman, who was on a line with forwards Darian Romanko and Joey Marooney, a line that has 12 goals scored in its members’ careers with the Gophers.

“We’ve looked better in practice than we have looked in a game,” Lucia said Friday. “I’m just dumbfounded by that.”

The Gophers have been inconsistent in each weekend of play so far, losing in the first game and winning in the second.

Minnesota has scored four goals in the first game of each series, but has eight in the second game.

“They were disappointed in how they played on Friday,” Lucia said Sunday. “We all have to take responsibility if we don’t play the way we’re capable of playing.”