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Unhappy Valley: Gophers swept at Penn State

Minnesota Gophers defenseman Sam Rossini battled for a loose puck with Penn State forward Denis Smirnov when the teams met at Pegula Ice Arena in State College, Pa. (Mark Selders / Penn State Athletics)1 / 2
Gophers defenseman Clayton Phillips. University of Minnesota Athletics2 / 2

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Happy Valley continues to be a place of sadness and disappointment for the Minnesota Gophers.

On Saturday, Feb. 9, a second period lead appeared and vanished quickly, as Penn State rallied for a 6-2 win and sweep of their weekend series. The Gophers had two apparent goals taken away after video review.

It was the Gophers sixth consecutive loss at Penn State, and even worse for them, greatly increased the odds that Minnesota will have to make a return trip to Central Pennsylvania for the Big Ten playoffs next month. With the two wins this weekend, the Nittany Lions moved one point back of the Gophers in the league standings, but Penn State has two games in hand.

Brent Gates and Sammy Walker scored for the Gophers (11-14-4 overall, 8-9-3-0 Big Ten) who held a 2-1 lead briefly in the second period, only to see the Lions come storming back with the game’s final five goals. Goalie Mat Robson made his 12th consecutive start for Minnesota and finished with 42 saves. It was the Gophers’ sixth loss in their last eight games.

Nate Sucese got a pair of goals for the Lions (16-10-2, 8-9-1-1), who are now 3-1 versus the Gophers this season. They got 22 saves from goalie Peyton Jones.

“This is a simple explanation. We were in a great spot taking a 2-1 lead, and then we take… nine minutes of penalties and they get two power play goals. And they were terrible penalties to be taking,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “On the road, with a 2-1 lead, to have it implode on us because of selfish penalties, that doesn’t work.”

The Gophers started fast, with Brent Gates scoring just 58 seconds into the game. Or so they thought. Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky challenged the play, claiming too many Gophers were on the ice, and after a video review, it was declared no goal.

“I don’t like to see all the stoppages, but as it turns out, that was a huge call,” Gadowsky said. “It went from being down 1-0 to Nate Sucese getting a breakaway and being one up the other way. So obviously that was a huge play”

Instead momentum swung the other way, hard. Sucese grabbed a loose puck at center ice and out-raced a pair of Gophers to the net, finishing the play when he tucked his team’s first shot of the game between Robson’s pads for an early Lions lead.

Sucese appeared to score again a few minutes later, but as his counterpart had done, Motzko challenged the call, and officials determined Penn State had too many men.

Gates made one count for real to tie the game later in the first, taking a pass from Rem Pitlick, who was in the corner to the right of the Penn State net. From between the circles, Gates zipped a shot just inside the right post for a 1-1 tie after one period.

“We’ve got something in us. We can fight back, and we can score,” Gates said. “It’s just doing it consistently. It’s like we pick our spots when we want to but we don’t necessarily want to enough.”

Walker’s goal, off a pass from Blake McLaughlin, gave the Gophers their first lead of the weekend, but it didn’t last long. The Lions scored on a power play less than a minute later, just after Robson had made a sprawling pad save on Liam Folkes on the doorstep, to forge a new deadlock. It took them just 70 more seconds to take a 3-2 lead when Brandon Biro shot over a crowd of Gophers in front of Robson.

For the second consecutive Saturday, the Gophers had to kill off a five-minute major penalty, as freshman forward Sampo Ranta was ejected for cross checking Lions forward Alec Marsh into the boards late in the second period. But Ranta’s penalty had barely come off the board when Jack Sadek was sent to the box, and the Lions’ ensuing power play goal after a scramble for the loose puck in front of Robson made it 4-2 for the home team.

“We’ve definitely had a rough stretch. Really the only thing we can do right now is put our noses to the ground and get back to work,” said Gophers defenseman Clayton Phillips, who assisted on both goals. “No one is hanging their heads. We believe in this group.”

After the Lions opened up a 6-2 lead, the Gophers appeared to get one back on a Nathan Burke tip-in, but after review the play was called offside. Perhaps the only bit of good news was Pitlick, whose first period assist extended his points streak to 11 games.

Game Summary

Minnesota 1-1-0—2

Penn State 1-2-3—6

First period — 1. PSU, Nate Sucese 12 (unassisted), 2:10. 2. MIN, Brent Gates 11 (Rem Pitlick, Clayton Phillips), 15:15. Penalties — Ludvig Larsson, PSU (holding), 11:21.

Second period — 3. MIN, Sammy Walker 9 (Blake McLaughlin, Phillips), 11:40. 4. PSU, Alex Limoges 16 (Liam Folkes, Evan Barratt), 12:38, (pp). 5. PSU, Brandon Biro 9 (Chase Berger, Alec Marsh), 13:48. Penalties — Scott Reedy, MIN (interference), 7:01; Tyler Nanne, MIN (cross checking), 12:01; Sampo Ranta, MIN (5/game misconduct- cross checking), 16:22.

Third period — 6. PSU, Nikita Pavlychev 12 (Larsson, Sucese), 3:55, (pp). 7. PSU, Berger 12 (Biro, Marsh), 7:40. 8. PSU, Sucese 13 (Cole Hults, Smirnov), 15:14. Penalties — Jack Sadek, MIN (holding), 1:56.

Shots on goal — MIN 11-8-5—24; PSU 8-22-18-48. Goalies — Mat Robson, MIN (48 shots-42 saves); Peyton Jones, PSU (24-22). Power plays — MIN 0-of-1; PSU 2-of-4. Referees — Jonathon Sitarski, CJ Beaurline. Linesmen — Tom DellaFranco, Joseph Hutek. Att. — 6,229.