It's just over 4,000 miles from State College, Pa. to Fairbanks, Alaska, and that's the longest distance travelled for this incarnation of the Penn State Nittany Lions as they headed to the 49th state to play in the Brice Alaska Goal Rush last Friday and Saturday.
Penn State (1-1-2) came away from the weekend without a victory, tying Alaska Anchorage (3-0-1) 3-3 Friday night and surrendering their first loss of the 2014-15 season to Alaska (4-0-0) 4-3 Saturday on a comeback win for the Nanooks.
Friday: 3-3 tie vs. Alaska Anchorage
Anchorage, Alaska native Casey Bailey tallied a goal in his own backyard in Friday night's 3-3 tie to the Seawolves. The goal gave Penn State a 3-1 lead heading into the third period, but two Alaska Anchorage goals in the last six minutes of the game foiled the Nittany Lion's chance at their second win of the season.
"It was a little bit nerve wracking the first night, but I think after the first period or so I calmed down," said Bailey on his homecoming back to Alaska. "I was excited to be able to see all my family and friends. They were pretty enthusiastic about being able to watch me play so it was a good weekend."
Penn State jumped out to an early 2-0 lead on the Seawolves with goals from forwards Curtis Loik and Dylan Richard in the first 8:47 of the game. Loik's tally at 4:33 past Alaska Anchorage goaltender Michael Matyas was his first of the year, and freshman Scott Conway totaled his first collegiate point in assisting the junior's goal.
Richard's first of the year came on the power play four minutes later, with a blast through traffic past a screened Matyas for the 2-0 Nittany Lion lead. Nate Jensen and Taylor Holstrom added assists to Richard's extra-man advantage tally.
The Seawolves cut Penn State's lead in half with 3:46 to go in the first period, on Blake Tatchell's shot that beat Nittany Lion starting goaltender Matt Skoff on the team's third shot of the period on the power play. Alaska Anchorage managed just four shots on the Penn State net in the first 20 minutes of play.
Bailey's 3-1 tally for Penn State came with 2:07 to go in a calmer second period on the Nittany Lion's second power play goal of the game, also assisted by Jensen and Holstrom. Penn State went 2-for-3 on their extra-man advantage opportunities in the 65 minute contest.
Alaska Anchorage came out more aggressive in the third period, outshooting the Nittany Lions 10-2 in the frame and pressuring Penn State for two goals to tie the game at 3-3. The first Seawolf goal from Blake Leask's deflection in front came with 5:41 to play on a power play for Alaska Anchorage with Conway in the penalty box for slashing. The tying tally came from Austin Coldwell shot that hit a Nittany Lion that went in past Skoff on an extra-attacker situation with Matyas pulled with 1:09 to play.
Only one goal of the game's six were scored at even strength, Loik's opening tally in the first period.
Each team had three shots on goal in the overtime period, but the extra five minutes did not produce a winner and Penn State earned their second tie of the season.
Saturday: 4-3 loss vs. Alaska
Penn State again could not hold onto a lead a day after their 3-3 tie to Alaska Anchorage and gave up their first loss of the season to Alaska, on two goals from Nanook Austin Vieth spaced 27 seconds apart.
The Nittany Lions surrendered an early 1-0 lead to Alaska 4:53 into the game after Tayler Munson put home a rebound Penn State goaltender Skoff could not control with the Alaska forward all alone in front.
One shift and 33 seconds later, Penn State's Eric Scheid got his second goal of the season on a rebound of his own after teammate Connor Varley took a hard slap shot at Nanook goaltender Sean Cahill that went right to Scheid for the 1-1 tying score.
As with Conway in Friday night's game, freshman James Robinson earned his first collegiate point for the Nittany Lions with a secondary assist to Scheid's tally at 5:26 of the first period.
The second period started out eerily similar to the first, with Alaska taking a 2-1 lead with less than five minutes gone in the frame and Penn State responding again to tie the game 68 seconds later. Nolan Husymans scored the second Alaska goal at 4:17, then Varley got his first of the year on a shot from the right point that Cahill did not see through traffic in front of the net.
Penn State senior forward Max Gardiner tallied his first goal since February 8, 2013 against Alabama Huntsville and gave the Nittany Lions a 3-2 lead just past the midway point of the game on the team's first major penalty power play. Tyler Morley took Penn State's Bailey hard into the boards at 7:41 of the second period and earned a five minute major for the infraction. Gardiner capitalized on the mistake during the last minute of the penalty, getting Cahill top shelf to give Penn State their first lead of the game.
The lead would not last, with Penn State conceding goals with under six minutes to play in the third period for the second time in as many games. Vieth was the hero for Alaska with his two goals in 27 seconds for the Nanooks. After beating Skoff off a Nittany Lion turnover with 5:57 to go in the game to tie the contest at 3-3, the forward made Penn State pay on a two-on-one on his next shift and buried the puck for the 4-3 Alaska win.
Penn State lit the lamp once on the power play in three tries and did come away with the victory in the shot count, outshooting Alaska 43-33 through three periods.
Penn State's David Thompson was injured in Friday's game in overtime after sustaining a laceration to his midsection during a scramble in front of his own net. The defenseman was taken off on a stretcher with less than two minutes gone by in the five minute extra period during a tense moment, but was admitted to a local hospital for stitches and looks to be okay to play in the near future.
"He's going to be fine," coach Guy Gadowsky said after Friday's match. "They took really good care of him. It was scary at the start, and we took every precaution, but he's going to be back at 100 percent very soon."
The Nittany Lions allowed comebacks in both their games over the weekend, games they could have won if not for the last six minutes of each contest. Rarely did Penn State play in a game last year where they held a lead after the second period, going 6-1-1 in eight games where they were leading after the middle frame. It's new territory for the Nittany Lions this season and it's something coach Gadowsky recognizes as something the team needs to work on to be successful to win games in the Big Ten.
"We were ahead in the third both nights. In one we let them come back, and in the other game we lost," said Gadowsky. "That's certainly a maturation process that we have to go through, but I'm very optimistic that we'll get it quickly because we had to go through that last year."
Weekend Standout Players
- F Curtis Loik: 1 G, 1 A
- D Connor Varley: 1 G, 1 A
- G Matt Skoff: .881 SV%, 3.36 GAA. Named to the All-Tournament Team
Penn State will play host to Holy Cross (1-2-1) back at Pegula Ice Arena on Friday, Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 26 at noon in the team's earliest start time this season.
The Penn State women's team has started their season 2-2-2 for their best record in program history after going unbeaten at Union with a win and a tie versus the Dutchwomen. To read more on their weekend, check out my recap on Victory Bell Rings here.