Gophers hockey sweeps Penn State in season opener

Minnesota had a strong showing against the Nittany Lions in its first two games, beating the Nittany Lions 4-1 on Thursday and 3-2 on Friday.

Gophers+forward+Jaxon+Nelson+fights+for+possession+against+Penn+State+at+the+3M+Arena+at+Mariucci+on+Thursday%2C+Nov.+19.

Audrey Rauth

Gophers forward Jaxon Nelson fights for possession against Penn State at the 3M Arena at Mariucci on Thursday, Nov. 19.

Julianna Landis, Sports Reporter

Thursday

With the anticipation of their first game of the season building for months, it finally arrived on Thursday when the Gophers faced off against Penn State, who they were meant to play in the Big Ten semifinals last March before, well, you know. The Gophers did not disappoint.

While the first period was scoreless for both teams, Minnesota got right to work in the middle frame. St. Louis Park native Jonny Sorenson’s first of the season came just five minutes in, with assists from Ben Meyers and Brannon McManus. Scott Reedy added to the lead shortly after with assists from Nathan Burke and Matt Staudacher.

Penn State had the last word in the second period, as Kevin Wall scored in the last thirty seconds with assists from Connor McMenamin and Evan Bell to get Penn State on the board for a 2-1 score into the intermission.

This late momentum wasn’t enough to deter the Gophers, and they came back to the third period hungry. Senior forward Cullen Munson took advantage of an early net-front scramble and snuck one past Penn State goalie Oskar Autio, which was called good after a review. Assists on the play came from Staudacher and Jaxon Nelson.

A review also came on an end-to-end goal from Gophers’ junior forward Sampo Ranta, this time causing much more confusion on-ice, as the officials were looking back at the start of the play for a potential handpass. There was none, but the initial call indicated the goal did not count. It did, and the Gophers ended the night with a 4-1 victory over the Nittany Lions. Minnesota goaltender Jack LaFontaine made 26 saves on 27 shots for a .963 save percentage on the night.

Friday

In its second game of the series, Minnesota found some success on the power play, and their first opportunity came early when Penn State’s Evan Bell was called for slashing in the first few minutes of the game. It took them a few shot attempts, but the power play unit hit their mark on a shot from Reedy, who tallied his second goal of the series with help from McManus and Blake McLaughlin.

The scoreboard remained at a 1-0 Gophers lead until late in the period, when Penn State’s Christian Sarlo tied the game with three minutes to go in the first. Minnesota was able to respond before the buzzer, with captain Sammy Walker regaining the lead with 0.8 seconds left on the clock.

Minnesota found more success on the power play in the second period with teamwork from Walker and McLauglin to assist on the eventual game-winning goal by McManus. With so much time left on the clock Minnesota had to fight to keep its lead through the end, but their efficiency on the penalty kill helped keep the lead after Penn State scored early in the third period.

Walker said post-game that a good penalty kill was important for the team’s momentum.

“The penalty kill is huge. To be able to be good on that and kill off penalties, I think that gives momentum to us and kind of deflates other teams… That’s huge for us,” Walker said.

Minnesota will return to play a pre-Thanksgiving series against Ohio State at home this coming Monday and Tuesday.