By Erin Neri, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After sweeping No. 8 Minnesota for the first time in program history, No. 18 Penn State men's hockey will once again host the Gophers in the opening quarterfinal round of the Big Ten Tournament.
The Nittany Lions beat the Gophers decisively both nights last weekend, securing home ice for a best-of-three series to kick off the postseason. Headed into the weekend, Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky and his team are preparing for a Minnesota squad that will likely return to Hockey Valley a better team than the first time around.
"Once the puck drops, the puck drops," Gadowsky said. "All that stuff to me is thrown out the window. Whether we did sweep them for the first time and feel good, or got swept and we're going to Minnesota, it's still two wins to get to the next round and that's really how we look at it."
Week in and week out, a point of emphasis for Gadowsky has been in the importance of all four lines playing their best hockey at the same time. While it's a struggle the coaching staff has looked to address all season, the problem has seemingly solved itself at the best possible time.
All lines were involved throughout the weekend, with each producing at least one goal while on the ice. All three defensive pairings also added multiple assists, even chipping in a goal of their own.
"[It's] very safe to say that over the course of a weekend we probably achieved the most consistent play both offensively and defensively," Gadowsky said. "From all four lines and all three defensive pairs."
The third line in particular exceeded expectations, contributing half of the Nittany Lions goal scoring during the series.
Sophomore forward Liam Folkes, freshman center Evan Barratt and freshman forward Alex Limoges all scored Friday night, with Limoges adding two more goals Saturday. Folkes and Limoges also each added an assist apiece during game two.
"We've definitely been controlling the puck quite often in the offensive zone and taking care of the team as best we can," Barratt said. "It's good to see the puck go in the net, finally. I know we've been working all year to be where we're at now and it's the right time for it to start clicking."
Although Barratt and Limoges have been important skaters for the Blue and White all season, the freshmen are starting to gain their confidence at just the right time.
With the pair finally starting to see the results of their hard work on the scoresheet, Barratt and Limoges have learned to enjoy the journey and have fun along the way.
"When we see each other doing well and we're having a lot of fun on the ice, it's fun to come to the rink and when you're winning it makes it that much more fun," Barratt said. "For him and I, it's just laughing together on the bench or going out for our 30 seconds and doing our job. We love having fun out there and it definitely builds confidence for both of us."
Opposite of his younger line mates, Folkes has experience in the in the Big Ten Championship from last season.
When looking at the dynamic of the third line, Gadowsky noted that it wasn't exactly the plan headed into the season. Looking at offseason training though, Gadowsky saw Folkes' attention to detail and movement off the puck as the main reason to have him lead the line.
"He does everything right," Barratt said. "He takes care of the team in the defensive zone, he gets pucks in and he wins battles. You see what he's doing and you want to do just as well as he can, so it definitely is nice having an older guy on our line."
In playoff mode since traveling to Michigan State, Penn State has been mentally preparing for round two with the Gophers.
"They're Minnesota, I don't care when you face them, they are going to be an excellent team period," Gadowsky said. "That doesn't change, so we're not looking at it any differently."