Penn State opened their 2014-15 season at home against UConn this past weekend, and they certainly did not disappoint as they start their season 1-0-1 coming off an exciting first weekend of hockey. The Nittany Lions staged a late comeback to tie the Huskies 2-2 Friday night and Saturday, they completely dismantled their opponents 7-1 on the backs of a nine point night from the line of senior Taylor Holstrom, junior Casey Bailey, and sophomore David Goodwin.
Friday: 2-2 tie vs. UConn
It was the former captain Tommy Olczyk that started it all for Penn State on Friday. After a first period that went Penn State's way in every aspect but the scoreboard, UConn gained a 1-0 lead halfway through the second frame on Husky forward Patrick Kirtland's low wrister that beat Nittany Lion goaltender junior Matt Skoff blocker side. Minutes later, Olczyk was taken down on a breakaway and awarded a penalty shot, which he slid through UConn netminder Rob Nichols' five-hole for the tying score and Penn State's first goal of the season.
An unexpected way for the Nittany Lions to net their first puck of the year, especially since Olczyk is not known for his breakaway opportunities -- having missed Penn State's lone penalty shot chance last year against Boston College.
UConn almost had the game in hand after Trevor Gerling deflected a shot from the point past a screened Skoff for the 2-1 lead with 4:46 to play. But, with just 48 seconds left on the game clock, Goodwin stuffed the puck past Nichols in a mad scramble at the net with Skoff pulled for an extra attacker to tie the game at 2-2 for the Nittany Lions.
"I was just kind of there, just whacking and grinding there in front," Goodwin said. "Honestly, I saw the Roar Zone put their hands up before anything and I saw that and then I put my hands up and scored."
Officially, Friday's game ended in a tie after a five minute overtime period did not produce a winner, despite the multitude of chances for either team. An exhibition shootout followed the overtime period -- a strange rule but with the Big Ten counting shootouts for their scoring system it's an unfortunate necessity -- which Penn State took the "loss" in three rounds, scoring once.
"It does not mean anything, but you want to win it," head coach Guy Gadowsky said. "It does not feel as good as a tie should."
Saturday: 7-1 win vs. UConn
Though Friday's tie may not have been completely satisfactory, Saturday's 7-1 rout of the Huskies was closer to that mark.
Penn State scored five times in the second period alone and chased goaltender Nichols from his net 34 minutes in on his second start of the weekend.
It took some work to get to that point though, as the Nittany Lions practically started their game on an extended penalty kill, with over a minute of it on a 5-on-3. Captain defenseman Patrick Koudys took an interference call at 3:41 then 42 seconds later, fellow defenseman Connor Varley committed a checking from behind penalty that warranted a 10 minute game misconduct, an ejection, and a five minute major.
Those almost seven minutes of PK time were the deciding factor in this game, but not for the relentless attack of the UConn Huskies.
Goaltender Skoff stood on his head during the penalty kill sequences, making some remarkable saves through traffic and without his goalie stick at times. When he wasn't making saves, his defense in front of him made the necessary clears and blocks to outlast the UConn power play that brought Pegula Ice Arena to their feet once it was finished.
"The kill was the key," Gadowsky said "If you’re going to have a good penalty kill, your goaltender has to be your best killer and he certainly was."
Skoff stopped 28 of 29 in Saturday's game, allowing only one goal in the second period after saving all 14 shots that went his way in the first frame.
From there, it was all Penn State's game.
Forward David Glen gave the Nittany Lions the 1-0 lead after a UConn turnover at 13:24 of the first period for his first tally of the season. Junior Eric Scheid had his first of the year as well, extending Penn State's lead to 2-0 on his own rebound just 43 seconds into the second period.
Holstrom picked up his first of the night shorthanded at 4:10 of the second period after forward Dylan Richard intercepted a cross-ice Husky pass to spring Holstrom around the defense for the 3-0 score. The senior had three points in the game, adding his second goal just past the 13 minute mark of the period that deflected off the inside of the left goal post past Nichols on a gorgeous wrist shot after UConn's only score of the game. Holstrom's third point of the night was an assist on Goodwin's goal 26 seconds later to put Penn State up 5-1 and chased Nichols from the goal for senior netminder Tom Comunale.
Goodwin had one goal and two assists in the afternoon matchup, his first assist coming on Holstrom's first tally of the game and his second coming on forward Jonathan Milley's power play strike with 1:08 to go in the second that ended the five-goal period for the Nittany Lions at 6-1.
Bailey's two assists both came in the second period, but it wasn't until the third frame when he got onto the goal column with his signature one-timer from the slot for the decisive score. Penn State's final tally of the game came with 3:33 left in the contest with the team's 4-on-4 after coincidental minor penalties.
The Nittany Lions dominated the Huskies on almost every aspect of the scorecard, outshooting their opponents 42-29 in the 60 minute matchup.
Penn State's offense showed up when needed against UConn, tying the game in the dying seconds of their opener and becoming a scoring juggernaut less than 24 hours later. In Saturday's game alone, nine Penn Staters recorded points with seven players recording goals throughout the weekend.
Also of note is goaltender Skoff, who had a .947 save percentage while stopping 54 of 57 shots through the first two games of the season. The junior has always been good in net for the Nittany Lions, but without last season's pressure of the rotating starting goaltender wheel, it could have a positive effect on him down the road.
The Nittany Lions racked up 23 penalty minutes in Saturday's 7-1 victory, eclipsing their 2 minutes of penalty time from Friday within the first five minutes of the game. Two games is an extremely small sample size, but with Varley's 10 minute game misconduct and ejection in the mix, which as of Monday hasn't garnered any outside discipline or suspension time, it's a habit Penn State needs to break sooner rather than later.
Coach Gadowsky echoed a similar sentiment after their game Saturday afternoon.
"We’re not going to win a lot of hockey games in Division I let alone the Big Ten if [the penalties] continue, so we have to learn from it," Gadowsky said. "We’re not thrilled with it, but really like the response we had."
Their penalty kill responded this time, but it's only a matter of time until it catches up with them.
Weekend Standout Players
- F Taylor Holstrom: 2 G, 2 A
- F David Goodwin: 2 G, 2 A
- G Matt Skoff: .947 SV%, 1.44 GAA
Penn State heads to Alaska this weekend on their longest trip of the season, and their longest travel distance of their young Division I time to date, to take part in the Brice Alaska Gold Rush in Fairbanks, Alaska.
The Nittany Lions will face Alaska Anchorage (2-0) sans forward Brett Cameron Friday, Oct. 17 at 9:07 EST and Alaska (2-0) Saturday, Oct. 18 at 11:07 EST.
The Penn State women's team also played this weekend and went 0-1-1 against the No. 8 Quinnipiac Bobcats to start the season 1-2-1. To read more on their weekend, check out my recap on Victory Bell Rings here.