The Minnesota Gophers did not play their A game on Saturday night. Head coach Bob Motzko postgame called it “a clunker”. But in the end it was good enough as Senior captain Sammy Walker scored with 2:39 left in the third period to give Minnesota a 3-2 lead they would not relinquish. Minnesota now advances to host the Big Ten Championship Game next Saturday night against the #2 seed Michigan Wolverines.
The Gophers and Nittany Lions both took a bit of time to get into the action Saturday night. Minnesota looked a bit slow, which was partially expected after a two week layoff between games. Penn State seemed to be the better team early in the game, but Minnesota woke up just in tie to get their legs underneath them. With 7:56 left in the first period the Gophers struck first. Minnesota got possession in the PSU zone and moved the puck quickly around the perimeter from Brock Faber over to Ryan Johnson who ripped a wrist shot at Nittany Lions goalie Liam Souliere. His shot was tipped in front by Big Ten Player of the Year Finalist and likely Hobey Baker Award finalist Ben Meyers and past Souliere for his 16th goal on the season.
Fun fact: Ben Meyers, is good at hockey. pic.twitter.com/6zc4YGggU8— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 13, 2022
Both teams had additional good chances in the first period but both Souliere and Minnesota goalie Justen Close stood tall. PSU was whistled for a holding call with just 1.2 seconds left in the period, something that would be very important as the second period would begin.
Minnesota took advantage of that power play to open the second period. Jackson LaCombe took a feed from Meyers at the top of the zone and let loose a seeing eye wrist shot that appeared to deflect off something in front of Souliere and into the goal just 27 seconds into the period. Mathew Knies had a great screen in front of the goalie which aided in the puck getting in the net.
After the Gophers went up 2-0 they seemed to get a bit complacent. Penn State was going a good job of clogging the middle of the rink and not letting the Gophers get consistent zone entry and possession. Meanwhile the Gophers got sloppier and sloppier in their own zone and you could just feel that the momentum was shifting. With 5:02 left in the 2nd, they struck as Tyler Paquette put a shot over Close’s shoulder to cut the Gopher lead to 2-1. Then after what seemed to be the third or fourth scrum in front of a goalie that period, the referees finally stepped into make a call, but instead of coincidental minors, the referees only got Minnesota’s Tristan Broz for roughing after the whistle. Penn State used that power play to tie the game with 2:25 left in the second period on a tip in front by Dylan Lugris and the teams went to the third period knotted up at two.
The third period was one of anxious moments. Both teams tightened up their defense and didn’t let either team have many good looks. Minnesota had just five shots on goal in the third period, with just four for Penn State. Minnesota finally gained a bit of momentum late in the period, but appeared to blow it. Sammy Walker, Blake McLaughlin and Bryce Brodzinski got a turnover and came into the zone on a 3 on 1 break but after Walker passed up a good shot and passed back to Brodzynski who tried passing back to Walker, they turned the puck over and that appeared it would be the end. But they had different ideas. As Penn State tried breaking out of the zone, Brodzynski poke checked the puck loose from the Nittany Lion player along the blue line and fed McLaughlin in the left circle. After waiting out Souliere for what felt forever the goalie and defender moved towards McLaughlin who then fed a streaking Sammy Walker who slammed the puck into the open net for the game-winning goal.
Penn State would pull the goalie with 1:45 left in the game but could not get a good shot off and Minnesota would get the win to the roars of a loud crowd.
The Gophers will now host the Big Ten Championship Game Saturday night at 7 PM against the #2 seed Michigan Wolverines who defeated Notre Dame 2-1 in the other semifinal. The winner will get the automatic bid from the Big Ten to the NCAA Tournament, but both teams are safely in and will either be #1 or #2 seeds.
Tickets to Saturday’s game are available for $30 at the U of M Box office. Pick some up and lets sell out the arena for this last huge home game!