The Penn State men’s hockey team skated into Mariucci Arena on Friday night with thoughts of upsetting the Big Ten hockey world.
It took less than a period for No. 15 Minnesota to put the Nittany Lions in their place.
Three Golden Gopher goals in the game’s first 15 minutes, and some impressive defensive work at the other end, gave Minnesota an easy 5-0 victory.
“We were slow to start,” Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said. “We were a little better in the third, but we never generated enough opportunities. (Minnesota) is a great skating and passing team and they showed that tonight.”
The outcome dashed any hopes for Penn State (18-13-4, 10-8-1 Big Ten) of swiping the Big Ten regular-season title or at least a first-round bye for the conference’s tournament next weekend in Detroit.
Kyle Rau, Justin Kloos, Hudson Fasching, Leon Bristedt and Vinni Lettieri scored for Minnesota (20-12-3, 11-5-3), while Adam Wilcox made 18 saves for his 12th career shutout. Eamon McAdam made 35 saves for the Nittany Lions, who were outshot 40-18.
The 18 shots were a program low, the first time since moving to Division I Penn State was held to a shot count in the teens. The previous low was 20 at Michigan last season, and the nation’s shots leader had just 27 attempts at Ohio State last month.
Penn State, shut out for the second time this season, also dropped its fifth straight road game, and fell to 4-8 in true road games this season.
The team’s lone highlight came about five minutes into the game, with a 2 on 1 break and Scott Conway feeding the puck across to Eric Scheid, but Wilcox stuffed the attempt.
A power play led to the first goal, with the Gophers’ Mike Reilly unleashing a rocket from the high slot that was tipped in front by Rau past McAdam 8:48 into the game.
Less than two minutes later, Fasching forced a turnover along the boards and fed the puck out to Kloos for a wrap-around score.
The score went to 3-0 with 5:03 left, when Reilly looped behind the net and set up Fasching in the slot.
Despite a number of power play opportunities, the Nittany Lions could not get the puck past Wilcox, mostly because they hardly put any shots on the senior goalie, who never faced more than six shots in any one period. Penn State finished 0 for 5 with a man advantage.
Minnesota, which entered the weekend with the nation’s best power play unit, was 1 for 5.
Two goals in the closing minutes iced the win. Less than a minute after McAdam was pulled for an empty attacker, Bristedt hit the empty net, and Lettieri knocked in a rebound 28 seconds later to close the scoring.
Right after netting the goal, the Gopher forward was leveled from behind by Conway with a shot to the head. The freshman was given a game misconduct penalty for the hit.
“That’s not Penn State hockey,” Gadowsky said. “There’s no place for that. I’m very disappointed that took place.”
Casey Bailey also picked up a five-minute major earlier in the third, and Penn State had a total of 6 penalties for 26 minutes.
The teams meet again at 8 p.m. Saturday to close the regular season.