Embarrassed. Humiliated. Humbled. Choose your adjective, and it applied to the Gophers men’s hockey team last weekend after it suffered a resounding sweep at Penn State by 5-1 and 5-2 scores to close the regular season.
The humiliation was particularly strong Friday night, when the Nittany Lions overwhelmed a listless Gophers team and set the stage for their first sweep ever of Minnesota. It got so bad for the Gophers that defenseman Ryan Lindgren was mocked by Nittany Lions center Evan Barratt, who feigned wiping tears from the corners of his eyes, suggesting Lindgren was a crybaby as the two jawed across adjacent penalty boxes.
“There’s some bad blood between us,” Lindgren admitted, speaking as much about the Gophers and Nittany Lions as himself and Barratt, “so that will make the games a lot more fun.”
The Gophers return to Penn State for a best-of-three Big Ten quarterfinal series beginning Friday. At stake for both is a spot in a March 10 semifinal. Though the Gophers almost certainly will make the NCAA tournament based on their strong spot in the PairWise Ratings — they were No. 9 on Thursday — this series offers a chance to restore some pride on ice.
“It’s not often you get a do-over, but we get a do-over,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “We earned where we’re going, and I’m kind of personally excited we’re going back, because it doesn’t have a very good taste in my mouth the way we played, especially on Friday night.”
That Friday night massacre was a surprise considering the Gophers were on a 6-1-1 roll and needed only one point to secure home ice for the quarterfinals. Instead, Penn State dominated from the start, won battles for the puck and kept Minnesota from registering its first shot on goal until more than 10 minutes had expired. The Nittany Lions fired 61 shots on goal, an impressive number even factoring in the generosity of Penn State’s stats crew.
“Penn State played better in that one game than anybody played against us all year long,” associate head coach Mike Guentzel acknowledged, but added, “It was an inexcusable effort from us, and it’s something we have to own up and live up to.”
That starts by matching Penn State’s intensity and playing tight, playoff-style defensive hockey. The Gophers aren’t scoring much (2.61 goals per game), and only six teams in college hockey have a worse power play (13.3 percent). To win, they must keep the score down, kill penalties and rely on goalie Mat Robson, who has stopped 93.9 percent of the shots he’s faced.
“I just think we have a lot more to give,” captain Tyler Sheehy said. “This last month, we’ve been playing some really good hockey, and even with that we have more to give.”
When the Gophers do get scoring chances, Lucia wants to see the puck on net rather than being overpassed.
“The time for cute is over, and the time for playing more of getting pucks on the goaltender and crashing the net is now,” he said. “Take a page from Penn State. That’s their game, and they’re good at it.”
Throwing a Penn State-style game right back at the Nittany Lions will require the Gophers to be engaged from the start — something that didn’t happen Friday.
“If you don’t have it now, it’s too late to hook up the paddles to somebody and give them a shock,” Lucia said. “It’s the playoffs, it’s begun, and if you’re an athlete, this is the best time of the year.”
Lindgren promised his team will arrive in State College with intensity.
“We’ll come in there with an edge to us and show them that last weekend was not Gopher hockey.”