Gophers speed past Penn State in Game 1 of Big Ten Playoffs

March 8th, 2023: Rhett Pitlick and Carl Fish each recorded two points in the Gophers’ 5-1 win over the Penn State Nittany Lions. 

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Aaron Huglen celebrates a goal against Penn State on March 8th, 2024. Photo By: Brad Rempel

Minneapolis, Minn – For the last two years the Gophers sat out round one of the Big Ten Playoffs and waited for their opponent, this year it was a little different. Michigan State won the Big Ten Regular season which earned them the No. 1 seed. Wisconsin finished second and Minnesota finished third. 

It is the second time that Minnesota has been the third seed and the last time that happened the Gophers beat Michigan twice during the 2019 quarterfinals but eventually lost to Notre Dame in the semifinals. 

The Gophers lost two straight Big Ten Championship games after being the Number one seed so maybe it will be good for them to have a different look at it. In fact, under Bob Motzko the Gophers are 10-4-0 in the postseason tournament and are now 28-18-1 against Penn State since the inception of the Big Ten in 2014.

Penn State is known to come up guns blazing and fire pretty much everything at the net. They will take shots between the red line and the blue line just to get something on the net. They did just that in the opening period with nine shots to the Gophers nine. 

Minnesota jumped out to an early lead after a turnover by Jimmy Dowd Jr. that landed right on the stick of Sam Rinzel, who made no mistake and blasted home his second of the season. Not long after Penn State scored off the rush but it was later ruled offsides.

But the Nittany Lions followed it up with another goal off the rush, this time it counted. 

The second period was nothing like how the Nittany Lions play. The Gophers held Penn State to one shot in the second period alone and fired nine themselves. 

“Penn State can do that to you but we didn’t stay above pucks,” Motzko said. “We did not have a good forecheck early and our legs weren’t moving. We didn’t get pucks deep and they had a three-man wall built. We turned it over 15 times in the first period but once we got our engine going, it had a way better look.”

Motzko made an adjustment to the top line in the second period after they swapped Bryce Brodzinski with Jimmy Snuggerud. The switch worked immediately as Snuggerud ripped home his 20th of the season after a nice pass from Jaxon Nelson. 

Their very next shift together, Snuggerud set up Mason Nevers for a great chance in front but Liam Souliere stood tall. 

“Just one. We made one switch halfway in the second period and it worked,” Motzko said on the line change. “All four lines got going tonight so that was critical for us.”

Penn State did come out for the third firing on all Cylanders again and recorded ten shots in the first ten minutes of the period but Minnesota held their ground, thanks to some good saves by Justen Close. The Nittany Lions only had one shot in the final ten minutes of the game.

“We came out a little slow in the first and we kind of got a whooping in the locker room,” Carl Fish said on what went into the adjustment from the first to the rest of the game. “I think we knew what we had to do. We had to get our feet moving and get pucks deep. Their offense comes from our turnovers and shows that if we limit those, it’s a whole different hockey game out there.”

Aaron Huglen ended up tipping home Fish’s point shot just over two minutes into the third period and extended the Gophers lead to 3-1 on his tenth goal of the year and fifth in his last seven games. He has five goals and eight points in that span and 19 points on the season. 

Rhett Pitlick ended up firing home his 18th of the season after a well-executed play that led to the goal. Luke Mittelstadt caught a pass and eventually set up Cal Thomas for a one-timer from the point. Thomas’s shot banged off the left pad of Souliere and bounced on the stick of Pitlick, who knocked home his first of two goals. 

His second came after Penn State decided to pull Souliere for the extra attacker. Pitlick caught a pass from Fish along the boards in the defensive zone and ended up flinging the puck all the way down into the empty net for his 19th goal of the season and second of the night. 

It is never easy to beat a team two nights in a row in college hockey but the Gophers will look to do just that tomorrow with a chance to end Penn State’s season.

“I think as a team we all know that we’re one of the best teams in the country,” Fish said on the mindset. “If we keep playing like we did tonight, I think we’re gonna be playing for a while.”

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