Trying to match what the football team did last weekend, the Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team was trying to make an upset of a ranked Penn State squad on Friday night.
Unfortunately for the Gophers (4-5-2, 1-2-2-2 in Big Ten), there was anything but an upset at 3M Arena at Mariucci as they were pummeled by the No. 8 Nittany Lions (8-2-0, 4-1-0-0), 6-1.
“We just didn’t have enough guys going tonight,” said Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko. “It’s hard to talk positives when you get embarrassed like that at home.”
Minnesota was doomed by slow starts in each of the three periods, as Penn State came out of the locker room firing on all cylinders. The Gophers did not allow a goal in the first period but gave up nine shots in the first five minutes. Starting goaltender Jack LaFontaine stood tall to keep the Gophers competitive in the first, which allowed Minnesota to catch up in shots – just 16-11 for Penn State at the end of the first.
“I thought as a team, first 10 minutes we were a little flat but it seemed we were getting momentum in the second half of the period,” LaFontaine said.
However, LaFontaine could not keep the Nittany Lions out of the net all night, as Penn State obliterated the Gophers defense to start the second period. Before Motzko could even blink (just 4:51 into the period), the score was 3-0 in favor of the visitors. A fourth was added for measure later in the period, and Jaxon Nelson struck back – his first with Minnesota – to send the score 4-1 at the second intermission.
“The first five minutes of the second period, again, we just turned the puck over and they get in behind us,” Motzko said as he described the opening minutes of the second, which saw his team lose their grip on the game at large.
With the Gophers looking to turn the tide to start the third, they were once again crushed by the offense of Penn State. Just 27 seconds into the period, Liam Folkes scored on a breakaway to deliver the back-breaking blow to Minnesota, 5-1.
However, according to Motzko, the team was already down following the four-goal second period by saying. “Goals at the start of the second that took the life out of the bench that just carried through [to the third].”
Penn State added three more goals in the third, all of which came on Justen Close. In the final period, Close replaced LaFontaine – who made 33 saves himself in 41:15 – in the Gophers goal. The eight goals allowed by Minnesota were the most since Dec. 11, 2015 at Michigan. It was also the first time since Feb. 14, 1997, that the Gophers allowed eight or more goals in a non-exhibition game at home.
“They have the best offense in the country. You play like that, you just feed it,” said Motzko, summing up Minnesota’s play as a whole on Friday night.
“Penn State has a team that’s notorious for throwing pucks on net and funneling everything through the middle,” LaFontaine said. “That’s something we as a team understand what they do. It’s just one of those games where you have to understand their system and you have to fight back. You have to punch back. you just can’t be taking punches in the head all night.”
The junior goaltender then followed up by complimenting his opposition on Friday night and looked at how the Gophers can learn from the 8-2 loss.
“Kudos to Penn State,” he said. “They were on us. They were urgent. They wanted it tonight. That’s what a veteran team does. I don’t mean that in the sense of age. I mean that in how a team’s attitude is. While we may be young, we need to adopt a veteran attitude where we are going to be on you and we are going to shove it down your throats every night.”
For the young Gophers, they will have to turn it around quickly and develop that veteran attitude if they want to come out of the weekend if they want to salvage three points.