MINNEAPOLIS — After Penn State scored a momentum-swinging goal with 5.8 seconds left in the second period on Thursday night that led to the eventual upset of the No. 1 Gophers, it was Minnesota on Friday night who scored late in the second period to swing the pendulum in their favor in their 3-1 win at 3M Arena at Mariucci to split the series.
A major storyline heading into the game was how the Gophers would respond, especially with their first period woes this season. Minnesota was much better this time around in the first period, allowing fewer quality shots. But they were defending too much in their own zone early.
Christian Sarlo, who scored that late second period goal a night earlier, came through for Penn State again when he shot one past Justen Close blocker side.
Strong play by Lamps to take the puck away near the goal and beautiful vision to find Sarlo for the early lead!! pic.twitter.com/tcSKzS6xEB— Penn State Men’s Hockey (@PennStateMHKY) November 12, 2022
The Gophers were caught sleeping and it was Ryan Chesley who lost track of Sarlo on the goal. There wasn’t much Close could do as it was another defensive mishap in front. And he was a major factor in the success Friday night, saving 33 of 34 to improve to 7-4 with a 1.88 goals against average and .923 save percentage.
“He’s always a performer,” Brodzinski said of Close. “It’s just he’s so calm in the net. Even if a goal goes in, you don’t have to worry about him kind of getting flustered or anything. He’s just so smooth in the net.”
It was Mason Nevers who tipped Mike Koster’s shot from the point for his first power play marker and fifth goal overall this season to get the game even with three minutes and 11 seconds left in the middle frame.
“We were a lot better tonight,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said. “When the game was kind of quiet, we just hung in there until we could get a power play goal.”
It was all Gophers after that, headlined by Bryce Brodzinski and Jaxon Nelson, who were two of the veterans who led the way in Minnesota’s response to Thursday night’s loss.
“Our veterans took over...that’s what we needed to have happen,” Motzko said. “Our young guys are going to get better from playing this, but we weren’t going to win without our older guys tonight and Nelly was one of those guys that led the way.”
After a failed clear from Penn State, Nelson kept the puck in the zone and found Brodzinski who sniped the puck past Liam Souliere blocker side and up high from the slot to give the Gophers their first lead of the series with 13:05 left in the third period.
It didn’t take longer for Brodzinski to find the back of the net for the second time in the game and third of the series. In fact, it was about a minute later when Nelson muscled past a Penn State player to get the puck and fed a pass to Brodzinski in front, and the Philadelphia Flyers prospect made no mistake. Nelson assisted on both of Brodzinski’s goals and now has 10 points in 12 games.
“They really play a crazy style, they just want to get the puck out of the zone, and I think (Motzko) kind of relied on us a lot to kind of show the young guys how to defend against that and stay back and kind of play unselfish hockey and putting the team first and getting back on defense,” Brodzinski said.
A Bryce Brodzinski beauty— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) November 12, 2022
So nice he's done it twice! pic.twitter.com/9dEucU2iVo
Brodzinski has five goals and seven points on the year now.
“It’s really nice being able to play with him because if he does something wrong or if I do something wrong, we sort of yell at each other and we’re not afraid of it...,” Brodzinski said of playing with Nelson.
The Gophers will head to Michigan for a series next Thursday and Friday where they’ll look to get back on a winning streak and prove the polls haven’t been mistaken to have the Gophers as the No. 1 team.
“We are far from where we’ve been ranked, it’s just our youth, we got a ways to get there, (Penn State is) legit,” Motzko said.