Hockey Game Grades: Minnesota
Coming into the series against Minnesota, Penn State needed to salvage at least a series split if they wanted to keep pace in the Big Ten and potentially put themselves in position for a late season title push. The lions lost game one 6-3 on a night where Peyton Jones struggled and the defense did little to help him out. Game two belonged to Penn State for two and a half periods before the Golden Gophers took over the game, dominating possession and forcing overtime, scoring with 3.5 seconds left in regulation. They then went on to score a power play goal that was deflected off a players face mask past Jones.
The offense out up 3 goals in both games, but they still somewhat lack the dominating fashion where they controlled the puck for minutes on end earlier in the season. Nobody on the offense had a bad series, in fact most players played well, led especially by the first line in both games. This line included captain David Goodwin, Nate Sucese, and Denis Smirnov, who has returned to his great play making ability earlier in the season. This was highlighted when Smirnov was awarded a penalty shot late in game two. He put on a variety of moves before sneaking the puck through the five-hole of Minnesota goalie Eric Schierhorn, sending the crowd at Pegula Ice Arena into a frenzy. Ricky Derosa also had a spectacular series, often found hustling along the boards with physical play against the Minnesota defenseman. But in the end Penn State was not able to put the game away against Minnesota when they were up 2-0 in the second period. They took there foot off the gas pedal for a split second and Minnesota was able to pounce on it, sneaking back into the game and eventually tying it late.
Game one was a struggle for everyone on the defense for Penn State not named Kris Myllari. The first period was hard fought on both sides with physical play all over the ice. Eric Autio was hit hard into the boards leading to an ejection for a Minnesota player and he never truly looked the same. Myllari continues his outstanding play in front of Peyton Jones with a physical style of play and a great amount of control with his stick and skating. However, the rest of Penn State’s defense did Jones no favors, unable to break the puck out of the zone with far too many turnovers. Game two was a different story as the defense absolutely controlled the ice better with Myllari again standing out and Trevor Hamilton landing some great hits along the boards. While Jones was forced into action more and more often in the 3rd period, this was more because of great play from Minnesota than defensive mishaps. Unfortunately, Penn State was unable to get a body in front of Justin Kloos on the game tying shot with only a few seconds remaining. Minnesota did have an extra man on the ice because they had pulled Schierhorn but this is no excuse as Kloos is the best scorer on the Gophers squad.
In a season full of peaks and valleys for Penn State Goal tender Peyton Jones, this series definitely had its ups and downs. Jones was let down mightily by his defense in Game one, however, he still let in a couple goals that looked to be savable.
Night two for Jones started off as one of his best games in recent memory for the freshman, saving many shots from Minnesota in the first two periods. He effectively controlled all rebounds and had some great saves in one on one opportunities to keep Minnesota at zero. The third period started with a Minnesota goal to make the game 2-1, but this was simply because of great passing from Minnesota, setting up a wide open net for the easy tap in. But with 3 minutes to go, things started to turn downhill for the freshman. He let in a goal that was also the buildup of great play from the Gophers, but this shot was still one he may wish he could’ve had back. It did seem however that this would not matter after Smirnov scored the go ahead goal with only a minute to go. Unfortunately for Jones, with only seven seconds on the clock Minnesota, had an offensive zone face off and used their time out to set up a play. Surprisingly, Chase Berger lost the faceoff for the Nittany Lions and Minnesota immediately sent two players to the net to screen Jones. It was hard to tell if Jones saw the puck cleanly, but it whizzed over his glove side into the top shelf to knot the game at three. Minnesota’s overtime goal was what many may call a fluke goal. On the power play, Minnesota’s Rem Pitlick rifled a shot from the point that appeared to be going over the net. Jones was standing to catch the puck when it was deflected off a player’s facemask and down low, leaving Jones no time to recover. While this was not Jones’ fault, he was clearly distraught after the shot went in, laying face down on the ice.
If Penn State wants to make a run in the Big Ten Tournament, they need Peyton Jones to get his moxy back that he played with prior to Christmas Break.
Brian McLaughlin is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him email email@example.com.
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