Penn State falters versus Minnesota; Set to face the Spartans this weekend

Photo by Mark Selders GoPSUSports.com

If you’ve been reading my coverage of Penn State hockey all season long then you probably know I haven’t been that impressed with this team. Granted, it’s going to take a few year’s of recruiting classes to become a power in college hockey and nobody thought they would be successful right away. The one thing I kept wanting to see out of Gadowsky’s squad  was a full 60 minute effort night in and night out.

Despite dropping both games to the No.1 Golden Gophers this past Sunday and Monday, I finally saw Penn State compete for a full 60 minutes. Yes, I know this team and coaching staff desperately want wins, but they showed they could hang and compete with the No. 1 team in college hockey. That right there was impressive to me.

Game one featured a stellar performance from freshman goalie and New York Islanders daft pick Eamon McAdam. For the first time all season long, McAdam shined in net as he turned aside a career-high 42 shots. It was his first start since Dec. 1st and he produced double-digit save totals in each period and kept the high powered Gopher offense at bay for most of the game.

Minnesota would score first to take a 1-0 lead at the 2:37 mark of the first period. New York Rangers prospect Brady Skjei connected on a one-timer for his third goal of the season. Speaking of Skeji, the Rangers have themselves one heck of a prospect. For a big guy at 6’2, 196 pounds his skating stride is as fluid as any player in college hockey. He makes crisp outlet passes and his composure on the ice is impressive. He reminds me of current Ranger Ryan McDonagh and will be nice addition to the New York blueline when or if Dan Girardi moves on.

Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Mike Reilly would make it 2-0 Minnesota in the second period, but with time winding down in the period, Taylor Holstrom netted his second goal of the season to make it a 2-1 game. At 3:45 of the third period, David Glen’s goal tied the game at 2-2 and Pegula Ice Arena erupted.

Unfortunately, the Nittany Lion comeback was halted at the 4:31 mark of the third when Florida Panthers’ prospect Kyle Rau fed Ben Marshall (DET, 201st overall, ’10) at the blueline and Marshall’s shot rang off the post and bounced into the net.

In game two, sophomore forward Curtis Loik registered his first career multi-point game and the Golden Gophers failed to out shoot a team for just the fourth time this season. Minnesota scored once in both the first and second periods before both squads combined for five goals in the third period. The Gophers wound up winning 5-2.

Loik assisted on Kenny Brooks’ third period goal and scored a snipe of a goal above Gopher goalie Adam Wilcox’s (TBL, 178th overall, ’11) blocker with less than four minutes left in the game.

Penn State falls to 4-12-1 overall and  0-4-0-0 in the Big Ten, while the Gophers improve to 15-2-3 overall and  5-0-1-0 in the Big Ten. The Lions’ have played nine of their last 10 games against ranked opponents.

Two encouraging signs I saw from PSU was Jonathan Milley looks healthy again and David Glen looks focused. Milley, who is listed at 6’4, 246 pounds, has had trouble staying out of trainer’s room over his one and a half years in Happy Valley. To see him flying around the ice and knocking bodies is a positive. Milley brings that unique blend of size and speed that the PSU lineup so desperately needs.

In the beginning of the year, David Glen had trouble staying out of the penalty box and was in the doghouse of Guy Gadowsky for some questionable hits he made. I don’t know if the Christmas break helped Glen re-focus but his play versus the Gophers was where his game needs to be all season long. He was winning board battles, drawing penalties, and being an agitator on the ice. That’s when Glen is most effective.

The biggest difference between Minnesota and Penn State was their team speed. The Gophers were on another level compared to PSU. Their speed through the neutral zone and their ability to backcheck was impressive. Minnesota is as complete of a team there is all of college hockey. My good buddy Pat White from The Hockey Guys said it best “They’re fast, smart and incredibly skilled, but yet they play a simple game.”

I couldn’t agree with him more.

Penn State returns to action this Friday, Jan. 17 when they begin a two-game series at Michigan State. The game will be televised live on BTN at 6:30. The Spartans have been struggling this year as they sit 6-10-3 overall with a 0-2-2 record in the Big Ten. Michigan State lost 5-3 to Ohio State last Friday and tied the Buckeyes 1-1 the following night.

Tom Anastos’ teams are known to be tough to play against and they block lots and lots of shots. Last Saturday against Ohio State, MSU blocked 19 shots, including 14 by defensemen. Defender Jake Chelios, son of Chris, leads the Spartans in scoring with two goals and 12 assists for 14 points.

Penn State made strides this past weekend versus Minnesota and if they can execute a bit better I see no reason why they could steal a game or both versus the Spartans this weekend. However, they must slow down the line of Michael Ferrantino centering Joe Cox and Matt Berry. All three had a hand in all four Spartan goals against the Buckeyes. Berry had two goals last Friday and one last Saturday. Cox chipped in with a goal on Friday.

If the Lions can shut down the Ferrantino line and play good, solid, smart hockey, I see a positive weekend for the Nittany Lions.