Penn State Hockey

Penn State women’s hockey: Whitlinger stellar in goal, but Nittany Lions drop opener to Minnesota

The Penn State women’s hockey team withstood a barrage of shots, and had a chance all the way to the final minute.

The Nittany Lions just didn’t have enough chances to cash in.

No. 1 Minnesota dominated play over the final two periods and blanked Penn State 2-0 Thursday night in the season opener at Pegula Ice Arena.

Milica McMillen and Sarah Potomak scored the Golden Gopher goals and Amanda Leveille made 20 saves for the shutout.

Celine Whitlinger was busy most of the night keeping Penn State in the game, making 41 saves as the Nittany Lions were outshot 43-20.

“When I start playing I just kind of get in the zone,” Whitlinger said. “Trying to focus on just one thing at a time.”

Like most goalies, Whitlinger said she would rather be facing a lot of shots instead of being bored with all the action at the other end, and that focus helped keep the Nittany Lions in the game.

“(She was) absolutely phenomenal,” coach Josh Brandwene said. “Sharp, focused, poised – incredibly proud of her.”

Whitlinger was especially under duress over the final 40 minutes, when Penn State was outshot 35-8, and Minnesota had a number of lengthy possessions in the Nittany Lions’ zone.

“(I’m) really proud of the way we held the fort during the second period,” Brandwene said. “We made some key adjustments in the third period as far as our own execution. I would look at that as one of our key growth moments.”

The sustained possessions meant whenever Penn State could clear the puck, it was just sent to the other end for a shift change without an offensive attack, and the Gophers skated right back up the ice.

“Sometimes the shifts got a little long,” forward Shannon Yoxheimer said. “You get stuck out there and you just kind of have to keep your composure and do your job, stay in your position and when you get the opportunity get the puck out and get a line change.”

The defending national champions didn’t show any frustration despite scoring only one goal over the first 59 minutes.

“We know we’re going to get everybody’s best effort,” Gophers coach Brad Frost said. “That’s what we got from Penn State tonight. The key for our team is just to continue to stay with it, not get frustrated but continue to push the pace.”

That one score came on Minnesota’s lone power play chance of the night, scoring 44 seconds into its player advantage.

Kelly Pannek first tried to beat Whitlinger from one side of the net but was stopped, but the rebound went right back to Pannek behind the net. The sophomore forward quickly fed the puck to the other side for McMillen, who lifted the puck into an open slot of net to start the scoring on the new season.

Potomak finished the scoring, stealing an attempted clear by the Nittany Lions and firing the puck into an empty net from the circle.

“It was the first game,” Frost said. “Just getting our feet wet, being on the road in a new building and playing against an opponent that was playing extremely hard. It just takes sometimes a little bit just to get some momentum.”

Minnesota beat Whitlinger two other times, ringing one shot off the crossbar and another off the post.

Penn State’s best chance came fairly early, when a neutral zone turnover gave Hannah Bramm the puck on a breakaway from the Gopher blue line. Just over six minutes into the game the senior skated in alone on Leveille, but the senior goalie kept the Nittany Lions off the scoreboard.

After the opening period, in which Penn State outshot Minnesota 12-8, the chances were few and far between for the Nittany Lions.

“It was frustrating but we did have good chances that we wish we would have capitalized on,” Yoxheimer said. “It would have been a different outcome. They’re not all going to fall.”