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By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
DETROIT - After a dominant 4-1 victory over Michigan Thursday night, Penn State men's hockey defeated Minnesota in a double overtime thriller, 4-3, securing a spot in the Big Ten Championship finals.
"I thought everybody played great, really hard," head coach Guy Gadowsky said. "Very, very happy to be playing here tomorrow. It was a big win for the program, not only for the Big Ten but also I believe it solidified going to the NCAA Tournament."
Right from puck drop, the Nittany Lions were off and running with Penn State looking to advance to the finals on Saturday night.
With a fitting 18:55 left in the first period, freshman forward Nikita Pavlychev netted the first goal of the night for the Nittany Lions off a rebound. Pavlychev was able to use his reach and grab the puck, before tossing it into a gaping net.
The Nittany Lions used the momentum from Pavlychev's goal to their advantage. Despite Minnesota's two goals during the first period, that didn't slow down the Nittany Lions. Penn State eagerly approached every offensive opportunity, quickly determining the play and getting shots on net. Penn State fired 11 times at the net during the first period.
Penn State started out strong once again during the second period. Sophomore forward Andrew Sturtz took the puck into Minnesota's zone and shot it on net where the rebound found the stick of sophomore forward Chase Berger. Berger was able to bring the puck around the back of the net and fire a backhanded shot just seconds later, with sophomore Alec Marsh credited for the goal that followed since the puck hit off his elbow. Minnesota's defense didn't see it coming, since they were still focused on Sturtz's presence near the crease.
The Nittany Lions skated out on the ice for the third period with determination in their eyes. That fighting spirit paid off, as senior forward Dylan Richard secured the Nittany Lions' third goal of the night, his ninth of the season, off a great pass from Sturtz only a minute into the period. Tied 3-3 at the end of regulation, the game headed to overtime.
"I thought they felt very confident," Gadowsky said of his team's mindset heading into the overtime period. "I thought we played a very good game, had a ton of chances. The guys just felt we didn't have to change anything, we just had to, as Erik Autio said at the end of the game, play Penn State hockey."
During the first overtime period, freshman goaltender Peyton Jones made a phenomenal glove save that made the crowd gasp in awe. It was a textbook definition of a beautiful save. Jones made 37 saves on the night.
"It was fantastic," Gadowsky said of Jones' performance. "I think a lot of guys on the bench, when he made that glove-save, a lot of guys said 'hey, it's ours now,' so that was huge."
After 80 minutes of play, both teams still looked fresh despite the lengthy outing. For all the marbles, it was junior defenseman Erik Autio who ended the game, giving the Nittany Lions the victory and the status of moving on to the finals. More than halfway through the second overtime, Autio caught a pass from freshman forward Denis Smirnov and found the back of the net, cheers erupting from the Penn State bench.
"It's a pretty good feeling," Autio said. "Celebrating with the guys after a game like that, it's just unbelievable."
The Nittany Lions will spend the important hours between games letting their bodies recover and getting back into the mindset of game preparation.
"We're excited," Autio said. "It's the Championship game."