Gophers men’s hockey continues Friday night struggles, loses 5-3 to Penn State

Junior Jaxon Nelson scored two power-play goals, while freshman Matthew Knies tallied his first career three-point performance in the loss.

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.

by Michael Lyne , Sports Reporter

The No. 7 Gophers men’s hockey team (7-6) continued their first game of a series struggles Friday night as they dropped their sixth game this season in a 5-3 loss to Penn State at home.

“That was a disappointing loss,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said. “We handed a game away and we’ve seen that now three Friday’s in a row.”

Penn State’s Ryan Kirwan opened up the scoring off a one-timer in front just outside the crease to give the Nittany Lions a 1-0 lead with 13:19 seconds remaining in the first.

As the period progressed, the Gophers began to find their footing and settle in. With just 32.9 seconds remaining in the first, freshman Matthew Knies continued his recent hot streak by burying the puck into the net after following up his own rebound to equalize the score at 1-1 into the first intermission.

The referees awarded Minnesota its first man advantage of the night just minutes into the second, and their power-play unit converted quickly. At the goal line, Knies spun around and fired a forehand shot on the net. Junior Jaxon Nelson was there to clean up the loose puck in front to give the Gophers a 2-1 lead 3:32 seconds into the period.

However, 40 seconds later, junior Ryan Johnson took a cross-checking penalty. Suddenly, Penn State responded right back with a power-play goal from Connor MacEachern to tie the game at 2-2 with 15:03 minutes remaining in the period.

The Gophers quickly started to push back as junior Bryce Brodzinski dazzled his way from the neutral zone into the offensive zone. However, Penn State’s Ben Copeland hooked him and Minnesota went to their second power play of the evening.

On their second power play, the Gophers dominated possession but could not find the back of the net. Then, one of the worst possible scenarios occurred.

As the man advantage dwindled, senior Sammy Walker fired a shot wide, and the puck rang around the boards to the Nittany Lions’ blue line as Copeland came out of the penalty box. He gathered the loose puck, skated his way to a breakaway, and fired a shot into the upper left corner of the net to give Penn State a 3-2 lead around the midway point of the second.
Much of the second period after Penn State’s third goal was back-and-forth. Then, Nittany Lions’ Christian Sarlo made a dangerous hit on senior Blake McLaughlin, so the Gophers went to their third power play of the evening with 2:22 seconds remaining. They executed for the second time.

Again, it was Knies creating plays for Minnesota. He shook off a check while gathering the puck in the left corner, pulled the puck to his backhand, and fired a shot on net. Penn State’s goaltender Oskar Autio gave up another rebound. Then who else besides Nelson to collect the loose change in front to tie the game at 3-3 heading into the second intermission.

Early in the last 20 minutes of play, the referees called a cross-checking penalty on junior Matt Staudacher. Quickly, Penn State took advantage of the call as Sarlo tipped a shot from the top of the left circle to score the Nittany Lions’ second power-play goal of the evening and give them a 4-3 lead 2:10 seconds into the third.

“That was a horrible call on Staudacher,” Motzko said. “That was bad. In a 3-3 hockey game, that is as bad of a call as you’re going to get in hockey.”

Penn State’s Chase McLane would add another goal just 58 seconds later to extend their lead to 5-3 that remained for the rest of the game.

The Gophers had a 5-3 man advantage for 31 seconds just minutes before the halfway point of the third but could not convert, and their power play finished 2/5 on the night. Minnesota outshot Penn State 35-26. However, their usually stingy penalty kill allowed two goals on two attempts.

“There are parts of hockey where you have to have detailed structure in your game,” Motzko said. “We have it offensively, but when it comes to the other side of it right now, we are below average.”

In the loss, Nelson recorded his first-career multi-goal game, while Knies tallied his first career three-point performance (one goal, two assists) as he now has seven points in his last four games. Junior Jonny Sorenson also left the game in the third period with an apparent injury.

The Gophers will look to bounce back and split the series Saturday night when they take on Penn State at 8 p.m. at 3M Arena at Mariucci.

“We just got to come out and play the right way,” Nelson said. “They just play so fast. They get up and down the rink and throw pucks everywhere, so we got to stay in the middle.”