Riding high a week ago, this was not the way the Penn State men’s hockey team envisioninged the end to its season.
For the second time in as many nights, No. 15 Minnesota handed Penn State a thrashing, celebrating its Senior Night with a 6-2 thumping Saturday at Mariucci Arena.
“This weekend, any time you play a program like this, very tough environment, great rink — Mariucci,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “It’s an extremely tough place to win.”
Hudson Fasching scored twice and assisted on two more to lead the Golden Gophers (21-12-3, 12-6-3 Big Ten) as they wrapped up the Big Ten title for a second straight season. Thanks to Michigan State’s 2-1 win over Michigan earlier in the day, the Gophers won the conference by two points over the Spartans and three over the Wolverines.
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Penn State (18-14-4, 10-9-1) finished fourth in the Big Ten heading into the conference tournament, which begins Thursday at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena. The Nittany Lions could meet the top-seeded Gophers again in the Big Ten semifinals with an opening win.
“We didn’t lose because of the big ice sheet,” Gadowsky said of a game played on an Olympic-size rink 15 feet wider than most rinks. “We lost because they’re a hell of a team.”
Kyle Rau also scored twice for Minnesota, and Seth Ambroz and Ryan Collins also found the net, while Adam Wilcox made 29 saves for the win.
Max Gardiner and James Robinson netted the Nittany Lion goals. P.J. Musico started and took the loss, making 15 stops, with relief help from Matthew Skoff, who had a scoreless session over the final 23:51 of the game and registered 13 saves.
The Gophers outshot the Nittany Lions 34-31. Penn State was averaging better than 40 shots per game to lead the nation, but had just 49 for the weekend.
Gardiner, a Minnesota native who started his college career with the Gophers, started the scoring with 4:44 left in the first period, redirecting Zach Saar’s slap shot from the right circle for his fourth goal of the season. It was a welcome score after Penn State was shut out 5-0 Friday, held to just 18 shots all game.
“I was really happy for him,” Gadowsky said of Gardiner. “... He’s worked really hard. He’s done a great job for our program, not only on the ice, off the ice as well.”
The lead didn’t last long, with two Minnesota goals in a 20-second span, first from Ambroz, knocking in a rebound after Travis Boyd put on a pretty skating display through the Nittany Lion defense, then when Fasching redirected a Jake Bischoff slap shot from the point after he picked off an attempted clearing pass.
The lead became a two-goal margin 4:32 into the second, when Rau deflected in a Fasching shot from the slot.
Robinson cut the lead back to one when he somehow slipped the puck between Wilcox’s pads on a rebound after a Connor Varley slap shot, with the puck slowly trickling behind the junior goalie and across the line. It was the freshman’s fourth goal of the season.
But Collins scored 63 seconds later for another two-goal margin, firing a slap shot from the top of the circle for his first career goal, and the margin went to three when Fasching sent a pretty feed from behind the net across the crease to an open Rau with a wide open net.
Fasching then fired a slap shot from the right circle on a rush up the ice for the team’s sixth goal, chasing Musico and ending the scoring.
The appearance of Skoff in the net meant all three goalies played in the final weekend of the season, and the Nittany Lions do not have a clear-cut goalie heading into the conference tournament.
Notes: The Nittany Lions played without freshman forward Scott Conway, who was suspended by the conference Saturday morning. In the final minutes of Friday’s 5-0 loss to the Gophers, Vinni Littieri scored and then was hit in the head from behind by the freshman. Conway is second in the Big Ten and tied for 10th in the nation among freshmen in scoring with 0.81 points per game. ... Penn State will be the No. 4 seed for the Big Ten Tournament and face No. 5 Ohio State at 4:30 p.m. Thursday. Michigan and Wisconsin face off in the second game at 8 p.m. ... Minnesota is 7-1 in two seasons against Penn State.