Men's hockey vs. Minnesota, Wall (21) and Snell (16)

Forward Kevin Wall (21) and defenseman Mason Snell (16) celebrate Wall's go-ahead, game winning goal in the third period during the men’s hockey game against Minnesota at Pegula Ice Arena on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. The No. 11 Nittany Lions defeated the No. 18 Golden Gophers, 3-2.

Taking a page out of the football team’s playbook, the Nittany Lions’ slow start would be their undoing.

In No. 10 Penn State’s season opener in Minneapolis against No. 11 Minnesota, the Nittany Lions lost their first of four straight road games 4-1.

After a scoreless first period, the Golden Gophers recorded the first two goals of the game in the second period. Forward Jonny Sorenson notched the first score of the season for either team at the 5:22 mark by putting away a loose puck in front of the net.

Just over five minutes later, forward Scott Reedy scored his first goal of the season to put Minnesota up 2-0. Penn State recorded its first and only goal of the contest on a two on one score by forward Kevin Wall just before the second intermission.

In the third period, it was all Minnesota, with forwards Cullen Munson and Sampo Ranta putting the game (literally and metaphorically) on ice with a pair of goals to extend the Golden Gophers’ lead to three.

Oskar Autio struggles in first start of the year

With only five starts on his resume prior to the season opener, goalie Oskar Autio had a rough go in the Nittany Lions’ first game of the year.

While Minnesota’s goalie Jack LaFontaine was superb with 26 saves on 27 shots, Autio conceded four goals despite seldom being left on an island in net.

With 6:16 remaining in the third period, Guy Gadowsky employed an aggressive strategy and pulled Autio in favor of an extra skater. Autio returned to the ice shortly after, but came back to the bench with 5:22 left in the contest to give the Nittany Lions a two man advantage after a kneeing penalty on Minnesota forward Jack Perbix.

The moves from Gadowsky signaled Penn State’s need to score at least three more goals with little time remaining in the contest, as well as a potential lack of faith in Autio’s ability to keep the deficit at three.

Offense searching for its identify early on

Aside from the breakaway goal by Wall, the Nittany Lions’ young offense could not find a rhythm all night long.

Penn State’s top line of forwards Alex Limoges, Sam Sternschein and Aarne Talvitie was unproductive in every facet of the game, turning in an ugly -6.

Given the turnover on the offensive side with the loss of six of their top seven scorers from last season, the Nittany Lions were expected to have a bit of an identity crisis in the early stages of the season.

First year player Tim Doherty, who transferred from Maine, did record three shots on the night but was on the ice for two Minnesota goals. Forward Sam Sternschein, who tied for the team lead last year with 12 goals, had a team-best 4 shots but ended the night empty handed.

Penn State loses faceoffs by wide margin

The Nittany Lions were outmatched in the faceoff circle all night long. Minnesota won more than twice as many faceoffs as Penn State, leading by a 37-18 margin.

In his first game as a Nittany Lion, Doherty lost in the faceoff circle time and time again, winning just three in total on the night. Freshman forward Chase McLane had perhaps the best night for the Nittany Lions, winning three of seven faceoffs in his first game for Penn State.

Forward Connor MacEachern was four of 11 on faceoffs and in 23 opportunities, Talvitie secured seven for the Nittany Lions.

Last season, departed forwards Nikita Pavlychev and Evan Barratt handled faceoff duties in addition to MacEachern and Talvitie.

In their first game action for the Nittany Lions, McLane and Doherty turned in better performances than mainstays from last season’s unit in MacEachern and Talvitie.

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