The roar of Nittany Lions fans combined with the comfort of being on home ice served the No. 4 Lions (18-13-5, 9-10-5) well this weekend as they swept the Golden Gophers in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.
Despite Minnesota scoring first in the opening period, freshman Cole Hults (Stoughton, Wis.) evened things out after a swift pass from Denis Smirnov (Moscow, Russia), put Hults in the perfect position to score.
A 1-1 tie to kick off the second period meant both teams were clamoring to try and gain an edge. Sophomore Nate Sucese (Fairport, N.Y.) got the puck from teammate Kris Myllari (Kanata, Ont.) and Sucese ripped a shot that found Minnesota’s twine for a 2-1 lead.
Although the Gophers were able to briefly tie the game at 2-2, Smirnov and senior Andrew Sturtz (Buffalo, N.Y.) attacked the opponent’s cage with a vengeance that gave Penn State a 4-2 edge heading into the locker room at intermission.
A quiet third period gave way to Minnesota securing one more goal at the 15-minute mark, but freshman Evan Barratt (Bristol, Pa.) used a power play to his advantage and sank one more goal for the Blue and White with 30 seconds to go.
A 5-3 victory for the Lions was achieved in part by goalie Peyton Jones (Langhorne, Pa.) who logged 32 saves for the team. Penn State had 30 shots on the Gophers.
Knowing that game two would not be any easier the following evening, Penn State came out itching to win and put the Gophers out of the tournament for good.
A strong opening was created by two goals in the first 13 minutes thanks to efforts from Trevor Hamilton (Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich.) and Liam Folkes (Scarborough, Ont.). The goals gave Penn State a 2-0 lead that they maintained for the entire first period.
Minnesota was eager to get on the board, though, and began infiltrating the Penn State defense at the two-minute mark with a goal of their own.
Barratt kept the Blue and White in the game with another power play goal with assists from classmate Alex Limoges (Winchester, Va.) and Hamilton.
Then, the Gophers unleashed a scoring frenzy, racking up three more goals before intermission. James Robinson (Cochrane, Alb.) interrupted the blows with the closing goal of the second, leaving the pair tied 4-4.
Despite an early goal from the opponent early in the third, State kept its composure and added two final blows courtesy of Brandon Biro (Sherwood Park, Alberta) and Barratt once more.
A nail-biter of a win, but the Lions locked in a 6-5 victory nonetheless, propelling them on to the next round of the tournament.
Goalie Jones tallied 35 saves for the team.
The Nittany Lions have a major challenge ahead of them as their next opponent will be Notre Dame. Follow the Blue and White as they head to Indiana this Saturday for a 5:30 p.m. faceoff against the Fighting Irish.