STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Every now and then, a hockey team needs their goalie to steal one. Jack LaFontaine did not get away with a clean pilfering on Friday, but he had 54 saves as the Minnesota Gophers held on for a 3-3 tie at Penn State.
The Nittany Lions scored in a 3-on-3 overtime period, earning an extra conference point, and lead the Big Ten by one point heading into their season finale on Saturday night.
The Gophers (14-11-6 overall, 9-6-6-4) got goals from Tyler Nanne, Ben Meyers and Bryce Brodzinski along with the goaltending heroics from LaFontaine, who kept them in the fight when they were being out-shot by a wide margin early in the game. Gophers coach Bob Motzko was happy to get a point in the standings, after a pair of lopsided losses to Penn State in November in Minneapolis, but was frustrated at the mistakes his team made.
"I don't know if we could've played any (more) poorly, but had a couple guys play any better, and a couple guys willingness to battle through," he said. "We could've won a game. By so many accounts we didn't deserve to be in that thing, but there we were in the end. So there's got to be some good in there for us."
Brandon Biro had a goal and two assist for the Lions (19-10-4, 11-8-4-1), who are trying to win their first conference title.
The Gophers did not emerge from the opening period unscathed, as they trailed 1-0. But with the Lions pounding LaFontaine with 21 opening period shots, and playing the aggressive, attacking style for which they are so well known, things clearly could have been considerably worse. LaFontaine was sharp, fighting off several pucks in traffic around the crease, and only yielding when Aarne Talvitie got free all alone in the slot and tucked a low shot past the goalie.
"You definitely want to score more than one when you have a period like that where you have a lot of chances," Biro said. "But all you can do is stick with it. There was a reason we got those good chances and eventually if you get enough of them, some will go it."
Nanne had missed the team’s previous game with an upper body injury suffered last Friday at Notre Dame due to a hard collision with the end boards. He had not returned to practice until Wednesday, but appeared unaffected by the injury in the second period, blasting several shots from the blue line, and tying the game with his fourth goal of the season.
Nanne fought through a Lions player to chip the puck out of the defensive zone and start a 2-on-1 rush with Sampo Ranta sprinting up the near side of the ice. With Nanne trailing a step behind on the far side of the rink, Ranta flipped a pass to Nanne, who popped a shot beyond Penn State goalie Peyton Jones to tie the game. It was the first goal of 2020 for Nanne, who had last scored in a 4-1 win over St. Cloud State on Dec. 29.
"We made a good defensive play when we were kind of hemmed in the zone," Nanne said. "I chipped it up to center ice and it went to Sampo and I just took off and created an odd-man rush. He made a beautiful play to get it over to me and I was able to just chip it in."
The Lions regained the lead on a Nate Sucese goal, and nearly led 3-1 just a few seconds later when Alex Limoges ripped a backhand shot that the goal judge thought crossed the goal line. After a lengthy review, it was determined that the puck had hit the crossbar and landed on, but not over, the goal line. It was a rare break the Gophers got on a night when Penn State turned many mistakes into offense.
"They're an extremely good hockey team, and very talented with how they play," Motzko said, at one point estimating that his team turned the puck over "322 times" in the game. We thought we were prepared to play a little smarter game, and we sure didn't."
Instead, two minutes later Meyers got loose in the slot in front of Jones after a turnover by the Lions, and fooled the goalie with a rising shot to make it 2-2. Brodzinski gave the Gophers their first lead with just under eight minutes left in regulation, popping in the rebound of a Ryan Zuhlsdorf shot from the blue line. But the home team rallied again, with Biro capitalizing when a Gophers defender and LaFontaine both failed to contain a loose puck near the crease.
Alex Limoges got the 3-on-3 goal in the second overtime for the Lions, although the game goes in the books as a tie for NCAA purposes. There were no penalties called in the 65 minutes of hockey.
Penn State 1-0-2-0—3
First period — 1. PSU, Aarne Talvitie 6 (Brandon Biro, Nate Sucese), 14:29. Penalties — None.
Second period — 2. MIN, Tyler Nanne 4 (Sampo Ranta), 11:21. Penalties -- None.
Third period — 3. PSU, Sucese 11 (Biro, Talvitie), 7:03. 4. MIN, Ben Meyers 8 (unassisted), 9:04. 5. MIN, Bryce Brodzinski 7 (Ryan Zuhlsdorf), 12:01. 6. PSU, Biro 10 (Sucese, Paul DeNaples), 14:37. Penalties — None.
Overtime — No scoring. Penalties — None.
Shots on goal — MIN 5-8-10-2—25; PSU 21-17-13-6—57. Goalies — Jack LaFontaine, MIN (57 shots-54 saves); Peyton Jones, PSU (25-22). Power plays — MIN 0-of-0; PSU 0-of-0. Referees — Brett Sheva, Sean Fernandez. Linesmen — Brian Oliver, Brent Nachison. Att. — 6,151.