MINNEAPOLIS — The throwback uniforms the Minnesota Gophers are sporting in celebration of their 100th anniversary season feature gold helmets, gold pants, gold numbers and gold letters. And their on-ice product in game one of this strangest of college hockey seasons was golden as well.
In a decisive 4-1 win over defending Big Ten champ Penn State, Jonny Sorenson, Scott Reedy, Cullen Munson and Sampo Ranta scored in the final two periods and Jack LaFontaine had 26 saves. The Gophers (1-0-0 overall, 1-0-0-0 Big Ten), who were picked to win the conference in the preseason coaches poll, looked every bit the deep and experienced team that garnered those high preseason expectations.
Kevin Wall got the game’s only goal for the Nittany Lions (0-1-0, 0-1-0-0), who have dominated their series with the Gophers in recent years.
“Great first game for us, to get a win and have that feeling in the locker room was outstanding,” said Gophers coach Bob Motzko. “Jack LaFontaine was great tonight. The coach is guilty of one thing, and the coaching staff: We’re coaching mid-season. Our brains are already in midseason and our players hadn’t played in eight months, so the mistakes we were making are all going to get cleaned up. We had great energy, and I’m proud of our guys tonight.”
As opposed to previous Penn State teams known for putting up seemingly dozens of shots each shift, the Lions managed a modest eight in the opening period, matching the Gophers. The home team’s best two chances to score came on shots by Brannon McManus and Scott Reedy, both of which were thwarted by sweeping Oskar Autio glove saves.
Minnesota finally broke through early in the second when Sorenson and linemate Ben Meyers both went hard to the net in front of Autio. McManus got the puck to Meyers, who tipped a shot on goal that the goalie saved. But Sorenson deposited the rebound, for the team’s first goal of the season. He said despite just a handful of parents in the building, the team was energized throughout.
“I thought it would affect us more, but the boys were pretty loud on the bench, just keeping us engaged, so that helped us out a lot,” said Sorenson, who had six goals as a freshman. “We were just so anxious to be out there, we would’ve played for anything, in front of anyone, at that point.”
Just past the midway point of the period, Reedy doubled the lead, grabbing a bouncing puck in front of the net after it touched several skates and sticks, and snapping a rising shot past Autio’s left shoulder from the low slot. It was a return to form of sorts for Reedy, who led the Gophers in goals last season with 15.
The Gophers were less than a minute from escaping the second with a two-goal lead before the Lions cashed in on a 2-on-1 break, with Wall flipping a backhand shot past LaFontaine, for a 2-1 Minnesota lead after 40 minutes.
The two-goal lead was reestablished early in the third period when Munson tapped in a hard rebound off the end boards off a shot by Staudacher. While the Gophers celebrated, the officials went to the replay booth and after a careful look determined the puck had crossed the line behind Autio. It was the third career goal for Munson, a senior who scored twice last season.
An apparent 4-1 lead on an end-to-end rush by Sampo Ranta was subject to another lengthy review.. The play began when freshman Mason Nevers swatted at the puck with a glove near the Gophers’ net. Officials on the ice announced no goal due to a hand pass. Then, a few seconds later, with play underway, the goal was announced in the arena and put on the board, leaving the crowd of less than 250 confused, but the Gophers up by three nonetheless.
“It was pretty tough. That was a roller coaster for sure, didn’t know which way it was going to go, but it felt good,” said Ranta, who returned for his junior season when many expected him to sign with the Colorado Avalanche over the summer.
Lions coach Guy Gadowsky put Autio on the bench for a sixth attacker with more than six minutes to play and generated some offense but got no closer.
Autio finished with 24 saves for the Lions. The series concludes at 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon, in the final game where some fans will be allowed before Gov. Tim Walz's enhanced restrictions go into effect.
Click here for Jess Myers' postgame comments from 3M Arena at Mariucci.
Penn State 0-1-0—1
First period — No scoring. Penalties — Tyler Gratton, PSU (elbowing), 5:11, Ben Brinkman, MIN (holding), 15:55.
Second period — 1. MIN, Jonny Sorenson 1 (Ben Meyers, Brannon McManus), 5:22. 2. MIN, Scott Reedy 1 (Nathan Burke, Matt Staudacher), 10:16. 3. PSU, Kevin Wall 1 (Connor McMenamin), 19:33. Penalties — None.
Third period — 4. MIN, Cullen Munson 1 (Staudacher, Jaxon Nelson), 3:53; 5. MIN, Sampo Ranta 1 (Reedy), 9:17. Penalties — Jackson LaCombe, MIN (interference), 7:36; Jack Perbix, MIN (kneeing), 14:38; Connor MacEachern, PSU (tripping), 16:19.
Shots on goal — PSU 8-11-8-27; MIN 8-11-9—28. Goalies — Oskar Autio, PSU (28 shots-24 saves); Jack LaFontaine (27-26). Power plays — PSU 0-of-3; MIN 0-of-2. Referees — Anthony Czech, Nick Bradshaw. Linesmen — Ken Anderson, Sam Shikowski. Att. — NA.