The fifth ranked Gopher Hockey Team can go a long way towards winning their third consecutive Big Ten Regular Season Championship this weekend in “Hockey Valley”. The Gophers will take on the #8/9 Penn State Nittany Lions with a three point lead over Wisconsin and a five point lead over PSU. If the Gophers can come away with a six point sweep, PSU would be in a deep hole leaving only the Gophers and Badgers to fight it out to the finish. But, the Nittany Lions have no intention of that happening with the lingering taste of being swept in Minneapolis two weeks ago still present.
Penn State bounced back in a big way last weekend sweeping the Badgers in Madison. The Nittany Lions never trailed in dominating Wisconsin 6-3 Friday and 5-2 Saturday. A week after getting shut down by the Gopher defense PSU freshman phenom Denis Smirnov tallied five points on the weekend including a pair of goals on Saturday. Freshman goalie Peyton Jones started both games in the series after only playing in the Saturday game in Minneapolis and made 57 saves on 62 shots.
Meanwhile the Gophers are coming off of a tough road split in Columbus against Ohio State. The Gophers dropped the opening game of the series 5-4 on Friday befoe scoring a school record six power-play goals in defeating the Buckeyes 6-5 on Saturday. Tyler Sheehy was named the Big Ten’s Third Star of the Week after scoring five points on the weekend and reclaiming the Big Ten scoring lead with 41 total points on the season, which is also good for 8th in the nation. Justin Kloos added four points bringing his career tally up to 141 for the senior captain. He now ranks 34th all-time in scoring as a Gopher after passing Dean Blais, Ken Gernander and Dave Snuggerud over the weekend. He now sits just one and two points behind Hobey Baker Award Winners Neal Broten and Jordan Leopold.
Minnesota will need to prove they can win a tough game on the small NHL sized ice sheet at Pegula Arena this weekend. The Nittany Lions blamed Minnesota’s big olympic sheet for some of their troubles two weeks ago, and now get to trey and use the tighter ice sheet to their advantage. Minnesota had some trouble scoring 5x5 last weekend in Columbus, and will need to turn that around to get a sweep this weekend. While success on the power-play is great, and Minnesota has been great now ranking 4th in the nation at 27.1%, you still need to be able to score at even strength. Especially against a PSU team that only takes 4.7 penalties per game. However, with only a 82.7% penalty kill, Minnesota will need to take advantage of any opportunities the Nittany Lions give them on the power-play.
Minnesota will also look to see the return of “Good Schierhorn” this weekend. Eric Schierhorn was outstanding in the Gopher sweep of the Nittany Lions two weeks ago, but gave up ten goals last weekend in Columbus. With Penn State second in the nation with 4.27 goals per game this season, trailing only the Buckeyes, Schierhorn must be on his game. He continues to struggle to get his save percentage up. It dropped to 89.7% after last weekend’s series which is not very good in comparison to the rest of the Big Ten goaltenders. With Penn State averaging an insane 46.3 shots on goal per game (with a LOT of help from trigger happy home scorers), PSU’s goal will be just to pepper Schierhorn with as many shots as possible and let him make enough mistakes for them to win. On paper...its a good theory. In reality this weekend will tell.
Penn State will come into this weekend with a ton of motivation. Its THON Dance Marathon weekend, which should mean a rowdy home crowd in Pegula Arena. And Penn State is still very bitter about the weekend in Minneapolis. In fact, two players—Captain David Goodwin and junior defenseman Tyler Hamilton talked about that in media availability this week.
David Goodwin remembers specific plays from this month's series against Minnesota and the sting of that weekend hasn’t been forgotten either.
“Hearing their student section cheering after all their goals,” the senior captain added when asked about his memories from the Lions’ trip to Minneapolis, one that resulted in the Gophers sweeping Penn State.
There were 10 goals for the Gophers to cheer about, making the celebrations a little repetitive for the other players on the ice. What still stands out to Trevor Hamilton from that weekend?
“That Minnesota [fight] song,” he said.
That’s right...Trevor Hamilton can’t seem to get the Rouser out of his head. Thats a shame. between that, and of course the infamous scarf incident blown insanely out of proportion by the Roar Zone, PSU’s Student Section two years ago, the Nittany Lions definitely still have a David vs Goliath complex going on into this weekend.
Minnesota will need to be on their game, but they showed two weeks ago that they can beat the Nittany Lions. A sweep would be insanely great, but a split is all Minnesota needs to remain in the drivers seat of the Big Ten. Even though there will be no Minnesota band in the arena, hopefully when the dust is settled after this weekend, Trevor Hamilton will have another song running through his head—-The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
How To Watch
#5 Minnesota Golden Gophers @ #8/9 Penn State Nittany Lions
Where: Pegula Arena, University Park, PA
When: 5:30 PM CST Friday, 7:00 PM Saturday
Radio: 1500 ESPN