The No. 5 Gopher men’s hockey team travels to Penn State this weekend for a series with the Nittany Lions.
After the Gophers shellacked Penn State two weeks ago, the Nittany Lions have a chance to rebound at the raucous Pegula Arena this weekend. When the U of M swept Penn State, the darling of college hockey was reeling. Penn State had lost its fourth straight game and it appeared the honeymoon was over.
Well, that wasn’t the case as Penn State swept the Wisconsin Badgers last weekend in Madison with ease, wining 6-3 and 5-2. It just goes to show how quickly things can change in this sport and although there’s just a month left in the regular season, there are a lot of outcomes that could play out.
Here are 3 keys this weekend for the Gophers in their series with Penn State.
Two weeks ago Eric Schierhorn arguably put together his performance of the season when the Gophers swept Penn State. He stopped 64-67 shots against the nations most prolific offense. The Nittany Lions come into this weekend still averaging the most goals and shots per game in all of college hockey.
Last weekend, Schierhorn had a rough weekend despite picking up a win on Saturday. The Alaskan native allowed 10 goals on 50 shots. Ohio State has picked apart Schierhorn this year, but he’s played well against every other Big Ten team. Hopefully Schierhorn can play at the level we saw two weeks ago and not what we saw last weekend.
In last Saturday’s 6-5 comeback win over Ohio State, the Gophers scored all their goals on the power play. The six power-play goals were a program record. Even though Minnesota’s power play has been effective all season, the Gophers need to find more even strength scoring this weekend.
There have been times this season where the Gophers have been crutched to their power play. In the sweep over Penn State, the Gophers scored seven of their 10 goals on even strength. With six players in double figures for goals this season, the U of M has plenty of options to light the lamp.
The Gophers suffered two key injuries to freshmen Rem Pitlcik and Ryan Lindgren against Ohio State. Those two – along with Darin Romanko – have been the only freshman on the roster that have played a significant role this season. Pitlick has been on the top line with Justin Kloos and Tyler Sheehy, while Lindgren has partnered with senior Jake Bischoff. At Wednesday media availability, head coach Don Lucia said the two haven’t practiced this week, but he expects them to be ready.
“It looks good,” Lucia said. “Signs look will be healthy with everyone we want to go on the plane to Penn State; we’ll have to wait until after practice on Thursday to see.”
If Pitlick can’t go, the coaching staff may have to really shake things up. Freshman Ryan Norman has played well when called upon this season, but he’s skated in just 16 of 28 games. Lindgren’s loss would be a big one; he’s one of the few players that uses a lot of size and body in the gritty areas. Not to mention the Gophers are a smaller team, so physicality isn’t necessarily a position of strength for them this season.
Puck drop is at 5:30 on Friday; 7 p.m. on Saturday. Both games can be watched on the Big Ten Network or heard on 1500-ESPN.