For a short time, it seemed the Penn State men’s hockey team had a little bit of momentum.
Then – poof! – it was gone.
Three goals in the final six minutes for No. 5 Minnesota, capped by Rem Pitlick’s hat trick, spoiled the No. 9 Nittany Lions’ party 6-3 Friday night at Pegula Ice Arena.
“I don’t think we controlled the game as well as we did last weekend (against Wisconsin),” coach Guy Gadowsky said after his team’s hopes of a Big Ten regular-season title were all but dashed. “For some of that, you have to give Minnesota credit. They’re an extremely quick team.”
Andrew Sturtz, Nate Sucese and Kris Myllari scored the goals for Penn State (18-7-2, 7-5-1), each assisted by Denis Smirnov, and Peyton Jones made 25 saves.
Pitlick, who also had an assist, has scored nine goals this season, and five of them have come in the last two games against the Nittany Lions.
“He was flying everywhere,” said Justin Kloos, who also scored for the Gophers. “When Rem uses speed like that, he’s a difference-maker.”
Ryan Norman and Taylor Cammarata netted the other goals for Minnesota (19-8-2, 10-3) and Eric Schierhorn made 40 saves.
But, for a few minutes late in the game, the Nittany Lions had the place jumping.
Kris Myllari’s third-period goal, a wrist shot from the point finding a path through a maze of Gophers, tied the game at 3-3 with 9:35 left.
“I’m not going to lie, I do not know who it hit,” Myllari said. “I was just trying to get it down towards the net. … It hit someone for sure.”
However, two delays sapped energy from the building. First, an apparent Minnesota goal by Kloos — which was eventually disallowed by a high stick — brought a lengthy official review and then a media timeout was taken moments later.
“Getting that goal called back I think we had momentum,” Sucese said. “Then we had the TV timeout … that kind of killed it.”
The Gophers were ready to roll.
First it was a power-play blast from Kloos alone at the faceoff circle with exactly six minutes left, then insurance was cashed in by Cammarata and Pitlick, the latter an empty-net tally to complete the hat trick.
“We never really felt like the game was in too much jeopardy,” Kloos said. “Obviously we got the power play pretty quick after, then felt like we had the momentum from there.”
Pitlick got his first score in the opening period, when he split through a pair of Penn State defenders to break in on Jones.
Penn State then tied it during a 5-on-3 power play when Sturtz knocked in the rebound for his team-leading 18th goal of the season.
Sucese got credit for the second goal, but it was Smirnov’s passing that made it possible, making a blind backhand feed from the boards to Sucese cutting alone through the middle.
“I was just yelling; Denny heard me and just threw it behind him and luckily there was no one in front of me,” Sucese said.
Penn State’s only lead didn’t last long, with goals from Pitlick and Norman later in the second to set up the third-period swings of emotion.
“After the game we told them just get ready for (Saturday),” Gadowsky said. “For them, the outcome of the game doesn’t change the opportunity for tomorrow. It’s the same and it’s up to them to get ready.”
Notes: The teams meet again at 8 p.m. Saturday, with the game shown on BTN. … It appeared Vince Pedrie had a goal at 8:11 of the first, but Sturtz was whistled for goaltender interference. Replays seemed to show he was pushed into the goalie, but the officials said it could not be reviewed. … Smirnov has six games this season with at least three points, and three with three assists.