“Frustrated” and “disappointed” were the words Don Lucia used to open his postgame news conference Saturday.
He has reasons to be after a 5-3 Gophers defeat to Penn State on Saturday that started slowly and ended with both an overturned go-ahead goal successfully challenged by the visitors, and the latest close loss in an ever-growing trend this season.
“We leave it to fate there at the end. But that’s hockey sometimes,” the Gophers coach said. “For me I thought we lost the game early, not late. Even though we came back to tie the game and we had a good push I didn’t like our game in the first period.”
The Gophers (14-13, 9-3), who fell back into a tie for the Big Ten lead with Michigan, erased two deficits before Penn State junior Zach Saar played the role of hero, scoring off a faceoff with 3 minutes, 51 seconds left to give the Nittany Lions the lead for good and a series split with the program’s first-ever victory at Mariucci Arena.
Freshman Matt Mendelson scored his first collegiate goal for the Nittany Lions during the first period. David Glen made it 2-0 for Penn State (17-8-3, 7-5) on the power play before Jake Bischoff and Tyler Sheehy scored highlight-reel goals 1:38 apart to tie the game in the second period.
Justin Kloos did the same with 40 seconds remaining in the second. Following a Luke Juha goal for Penn State, Minnesota’s captain one-timed a pass from Hudson Fasching for his fourth shorthanded goal this season.
The Gophers believed they went ahead 7:40 into the third period. Taylor Cammarata tapped in a rebound of a Nick Seeler shot, but the Nittany Lions challenged the play and were successful.
“It was frustrating. We were playing pretty well. We get an offsides call by I don’t know a foot,” said a fired-up Kloos in regards to the overturned play. “That’s the game of hockey. We just have to live with it.”
Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said he didn’t see the play. His equipment manager did in front of his bench, however, and thinking it was pretty blatantly offsides, alerted Gadowsky to make the coaches’ challenge.
The Nittany Lions found momentum after the challenge. They were able to withstand sustained pressure and controlled play throughout the third period.
Saar’s shot off the faceoff was deflected past goalie Eric Schierhorn, who made 24 saves. Kenny Brooks added an empty-net goal.
Still, for all the chances early and late, the Gophers ended up frustrated and disappointed.
“You have to execute and you have got to finish late in the game,” Lucia said. “But again, for me it wasn’t so much that. That play is going to happen. It’s not making more plays earlier in the game and leaving it to that.”