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Gophers' road slate is done, as series at Penn State is canceled

The Minnesota Gophers will have to wait until next season to try and get back on the winning track at Penn State. On Thursday that school announced cancellation of their Feb. 27-28 hockey series versus Minnesota due to on-going issues with positive COVID-19 tests among the Nittany Lions.

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Minnesota Gophers forward Sammy Walker (9) brings the puck up ice facing Penn State defender Evan Bell (7) in the first period of a NCAA Men’s Hockey game at 3M Arena at Mariucci on Thursday, November 19, 2020. John Autey / The Rink Live
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MINNEAPOLIS — Four years to the day since the Minnesota Gophers last won a game at Penn State, they learned they will not get the opportunity to do so this season.

The Nittany Lions on Thursday afternoon, Feb. 18, announced that the two-game series scheduled for Feb. 27-28 at Pegula Ice Arena in State College, Pa., has been canceled and will not be rescheduled. That means that the Gophers’ slate of road games is done for the regular season, and they have just four games remaining.

Per the statement released by Penn State, which is the defending Big Ten hockey champion, the games will not be played due to positive COVID-19 test results among their Tier 1 personnel. The Lions have not played since Jan. 29, due to pandemic-related cancellations.

"Our league has been very fortunate all season, with very few cancellations," Gophers coach Bob Motzko said in a text message to The Rink Live. "We've all said this is the year to be ready to adjust and adapt on the fly. So here we go, adjusting and adapting."

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Penn State has been a nemesis for the Gophers in the previous three seasons, with the Lions going 7-0-1 versus Minnesota in their last four series at Pegula (including a two-game Big Ten playoff series at the conclusion of the 2017-18 season). The Gophers’ last win there came on Feb. 18, 2017. Minnesota was scheduled to play at Penn State in a second round Big Ten playoff game on Saturday, March 14, 2020, before the entire college hockey season was cancelled due to the pandemic. The Gophers opened the 2020-21 season at home versus the Nittany Lions, and won the games 4-1 and 3-2 on Nov. 19-20.

The Big Ten’s original plan was to have each team play 24 conference games: two at home and two on the road versus each of the conference’s six other teams. In Phase 1 of the Big Ten schedule, prior to the holidays, only one series had to be rescheduled due to COVID-19 issues. But with numerous cancellations and more rescheduled series in Phase 2 of the schedule, it will be impossible for all seven teams to complete a 24-game schedule.

That means that the final conference standings will likely be determined by winning percentage, rather than points earned. Based on points, Minnesota currently leads second place Wisconsin by two points. Based on winning percentage, the Gophers lead the Badgers .722 to .667. Wisconsin has six games remaining, while the Gophers will only play four.

The games remaining on the Gophers’ schedule are two at home versus Michigan State this weekend (Feb. 19-20) and two at home versus Michigan on March 5-6. The Big Ten tournament is scheduled to be hosted by Notre Dame and played in a single-elimination format on March 18-20.

Neither school's athletic department offered any additional comment beyond the announcement of the cancellation.

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Minnesota Gophers goalie Jack LaFontaine fought off a second period shot from Penn State forward Alex Limoges during their game Saturday, Feb. 22, in State College, Pa. Steve Manuel / Penn State Athletics

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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