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Home Ice Lifts Nittany Lions

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By Erin Neri, student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's hockey has officially punched its ticket to the Big Ten semifinals, beating Minnesota for the fourth consecutive time Saturday night.

While the Nittany Lions swept the Gophers just last weekend, there were no guarantees Penn State would be able to beat them twice more.

"Minnesota is a tremendous team," Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky said. "[We] sure put it together and with the help of the crowd, [we] turned out to beat an excellent team in a series. It feels really good." 

Playing in front of a home ice crowd for the first and second time in program history turned out to be a valuable piece of Penn State's quarterfinal-sweep.

While Penn State was only granted home ice last weekend, the attendance question quickly arose as many students members of the community had already made plans to leave Happy Valley for spring break.

Proving just how passionate they are, both students and community members still packed Pegula Ice Arena to create an environment that give Penn State the boost it needed to pull off the win.

"Home ice turned out to be massive," Gadowsky said "We never would have gotten home ice if it wasn't for our crowd and I don't think we [would've had] a shot tonight it if wasn't for them. We can't thank the students and the community enough for their support tonight. They were absolutely huge."

Compared to last year, when the Blue and White beat Michigan in a nearly empty Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, winning in front of a sea of cheering fans dressed in blue and white, only made the night that much sweeter.

Celebrating the big win on home ice made only made for an even more special memory for the veteran Nittany Lions who went through the tournament last year. However, the upperclassmen know there's still a long road to the Big Ten Championship game. 

"[The fans] definitely helped us pick up the win," sophomore forward Liam Folkes said. "It's always better when the crowd is louder, but we have a long way to go and we're not done yet." 

Senior captain James Robinson has also been through the gauntlet of the tournament, but tonight, he played a pivotal role in making sure his team advanced to the next round. Robinson scored the last goal of the second period, breaking up a streak of three Minnesota goals.

While it may be the last game Robinson and the other seniors skate in Hockey Valley, it was only fitting for Robinson to score the game-tying goal headed to the third period.

Both the final score and his goal gave Robinson a special postgame moment on the ice with Gadowsky.

"When we were shaking hands, Jimmy came up behind me and said, 'If this is the last night here at Pegula, what a night,'" Gadowsky said. "It meant a lot to Jimmy."

As Gadowsky stressed though, the team has learned many lessons throughout the course of the season, and they're not done yet.

Junior forward Andrew Sturtz told the media after last night's win that his team is "finally starting to learn how to play with a two-goal lead." During Saturday's game though, when the Nittany Lions took the lead, they remained calm even as the Gophers responded. 

"You have to give those guys a lot of credit for coming back and coming back," Gadowsky said. "Sturtzy (Andrew Sturtz) said we were learning how to play with a lead and well we got an opportunity tonight to learn how to come back and obviously they were tremendous." 

Following their usual mindset, the Nittany Lions were focused on beating Minnesota this weekend, not paying much attention to other matchups in the Big Ten. Penn State isn't planning on enjoying the win for too long though, because come Monday, all attention will be on Notre Dame in the semifinals.

"We try very hard not to look [at the rankings]," Gadowsky said. "I'm just very happy to win this series and we'll look after this." 

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