The Penn State men’s hockey team could have let a big win slip away, but Luke Juha wouldn’t let it happen.
The junior defenseman snared the puck near the top of the circle, took a stride toward the goal and, with a maze of bodies between him and the net, found a sliver of an opening all the way in.
The junior’s goal gave Penn State a 4-3 win over the Golden Gophers on Saturday night at Pegula Ice Arena.
The Nittany Lions needed this one.
After enduring relentless pressure in the third period from No. 17 Minnesota, giving up the tying goal in the final minute, the Nittany Lions struck gold in overtime with Juha.
“Minnesota was all over us for a little while and they had a bunch of momentum,” Juha said. “We got a power play, so we knew we had to capitalize on that.”
Scott Conway scored twice and Curtis Loik also found the net as Penn State (16-10-4, 8-5-1 Big Ten) ended a three-game losing streak and stayed in third place in the conference, back to two points behind Minnesota.
P.J. Musico made 32 saves in the victory, a night after the team’s lackluster effort in a 2-1 loss Friday.
“I thought it was a drastic difference from (Friday) night,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “We looked like a team that was very satisfied to be close to Minnesota. I think tonight, I didn’t sense that at all. Boy, they’re good. They really came at us so hard in the third. It was a great effort. The blocked shots were phenomenal. P.J. played very well. I think our ‘D’ laid a lot on the line blocking shots, but I didn’t see any complacency or quit at all.”
The Gophers, who had a five-game win streak snapped, got a pair of goals from Travis Boyd and Sam Warning forced overtime with his score. Adam Wilcox stopped 30 shots in the loss.
“Any time you lose in overtime it’s a kick in the you-know-what,” coach Don Lucia said.
An elbowing call on Michael Brodzinski in the extra period gave the Nittany Lions a power play, and for the second time on the night they made the man advantage work. Casey Bailey sent the puck over to Juha along the boards, and the defenseman ripped a shot through nearly everyone else on the ice and Wilcox to earn a weekend split.
“That’s what happens when you shoot the puck,” Juha said. “I was a little surprised (no one deflected it). There were lots of bodies in front. I was just lucky to score.”
It was just the second goal of the season for Juha.
“Obviously a good shot, but I think David Glen just did a tremendous job in front,” Gadowsky said of the screen in front of the net. “I know Wilcox didn’t see a thing, and that was really the key to the goal.”
Warning spoiled the win in regulation, with the Gophers skating 6 on 5 after pulling Wilcox, by knocking in the puck standing alone at the far post after a diagonal pass from Hudson Fasching with 39.6 seconds left in regulation.
“Fasching made the whole play,” Warning said. “I kind of just went to the net. Fasching’s a hard-working player but he’s also skilled. He found me and I didn’t have much to do.”
Standing inches from the net and with Musico committed to the other side, there was a huge target for the senior.
“I probably should have had it,” Musico joked. “I knew the guy was there. He was just on the doorstep, could have had a cup of tea. The biggest thing is (to have) short-term memory. It happens.”
Penn State struck for the opening goal for the second straight night as Loik tapped in a rebound for his sixth goal of the year.
Five minutes later, Conway turned in the best goal perhaps of the season. Taking a long pass up the middle from Dylan Richard, Conway was one-on-one with the Gophers’ Ryan Collins. Conway dipped one way, then another slipping the puck around Collins and finding himself alone with Wilcox.
“I just tried to cut the ‘D’ there and (Richard) made a nice pass,” Conway said. “Just made a decent move on the goalie and got lucky there, I think.”
Boyd put Minnesota on the board 8:17 into the second period on a power play, taking a feed from Mike Reilly from the boards into the slot and beating Musico over his left shoulder.
Conway scored his eighth tally of the season with 4:16 left in the second as he and Eric Scheid raced up the ice on a 2 on 1 against Reilly. The Lion duo worked the puck back and forth before Conway finished from a foot away with no chance for Wilcox.
“He really played one heck of a hockey game,” Gadowsky said of Conway. “He’s a confident kid. He was so not satisfied to just be on the same ice. He played to win, that kid.”
The score came during a 4 on 4, and 37 seconds later when the Gophers went on a power play, they again cashed in when Reilly fed the puck across to Boyd, who banked in a shot off the post. It was goal No. 15 on the season for Boyd.
The Scheid-Conway combination almost worked its magic again midway through the third, seconds after killing a penalty the pair again had a 2 on 1 break. Scheid was stopped by Wilcox, and the goalie poked the puck away from Conway a fraction of a second before the freshman could tap in the rebound.
The duo also had one more break, with Conway feeding Scheid for a blast just over the blue line, but it came just as the end-of-regulation horn sounded.
“You’re just disappointed with the overtime,” Lucia said. “Don’t put ourselves in a position to take a penalty like we did. You just can’t do that.”
Notes: Penn State was 2 for 3 with a man advantage, while the Gophers were 2 for 4. … The Nittany Lions entered the weekend averaging 41 shots a game to lead the nation, but for the second straight night were held below their average, outshot by Minnesota 35-34. … Penn State is back on the road next weekend, visiting Ohio State on Friday and Saturday.