After last week's disappointing outing in Alaska that saw Penn State (3-1-2) give away two games despite leading heading into the third period, the Nittany Lions came home and dismantled Holy Cross (1-4-1) Friday night by a score of 3-1 and then 7-1 on Sunday afternoon for the team's first home sweep in Pegula Ice Arena history.
Friday: 3-1 win vs. Holy Cross
It started with a questionable call on what really was - and should have been - quite a gorgeous goal by Penn State forward Dylan Richard.
Near the end of the first period, a solo effort by the sophomore that started from his own blue line as he managed to elude almost every Holy Cross player on the ice to eventually tuck the puck around Crusader goaltender Matt Ginn was disallowed after officials ruled that Richard interfered with the netminder on the play.
The NCAA has started to put a greater emphasis on goaltender interference this season, and while it's a fine mentality to have, head coach Guy Gadoswky did not agree with the call on the ice in Friday's game.
"I know it’s a point of emphasis, but I can’t imagine that’s the intent of the rule," Gadowsky said. "If you can’t take the puck to the net and try to deke the goalie, I just don’t understand."
The disallowed goal did not end up costing Penn State, but it stoked the fire for what turned out to be a fairly chippy weekend series.
Ricky DeRosa got the Nittany Lions ahead 1-0 late in the second period on a face-off win from teammate David Glen. The puck popped out to DeRosa from the face-off circle and he fired through a screen that beat goaltender Ginn up high for his first tally of the season. However, Holy Cross battled back and capitalized off a Penn State turnover with 7:23 gone in the third period to tie the game 1-1 as Scott Pooley's one-timer from a knee could not be stopped by Nittany Lion goaltender Matt Skoff.
A total of 28 penalty minutes were called in the game Friday night, with Penn State playing the more disciplined contest as the Nittany Lions gained nine extra-man advantage attempts. However, it took them until their sixth attempt for Penn State to put up points on the power play to break the 1-1 tie past the halfway point of the third period.
Eric Scheid put home his third goal of the season for the 2-1 Penn State score, as Ginn could not control a rebound shot by Kenny Brooks from the point and Scheid slammed the puck in from the doorstep before the goaltender could cover up with 7:28 to play in the game.
Casey Bailey cemented the 3-1 win for Penn State with his second goal of the season less than four minutes later, tapping in a lose rebound stick side on Ginn as the goaltender was out of position in front of the net.
The Nittany Lions cruised to a 50-30 shot count advantage in Friday night's matchup, their largest shot count margin of the season so far.
Saturday: 7-1 win vs. Holy Cross
Last year's freshmen class for Penn State played a large role in the successes the team had a season ago. This year seems to be no different.
Freshmen Scott Conway and Erik Autio combined for five points in Sunday's game, four coming from English-born forward Conway with his two goals and two assists in a monster game for the first-year collegiate player.
Five different Nittany Lions totaled goals in the contest and 12 players had at least one point on the scoreboard throughout the 60 minutes of play.
No goals were scored in the first period, but Bailey kickstarted the Penn State scoring with 5:11 to play in the middle frame. On nice feeds from linemates David Goodwin and Taylor Holstrom, Bailey pocked the puck top shelf on a tap in past Ginn's glove side for a nice looking tic-tac-toe goal to make it 1-0 Nittany Lions.
Curtis Loik put Penn State up 2-0 just a few minutes later on a one-timer from the slot that stayed low and stuck between Ginn's skate and the right post. Conway and Autio assisted on the junior's second tally of the year, with Autio picking up his first point in blue and white.
Conway's second assist came on a nice two-on-one play with only 3:33 elapsed in the third period. The freshman looked to shoot on net as he was streaking down the left side of the ice, but instead fed a nice pass across ice to Scheid and he fired the puck home on a one-timer for the 3-0 tally.
Glen gave Penn State a 4-0 lead just under a minute and a half later on his second goal of the year, putting the puck through the five-hole of Ginn after Loik's pass came out to the forward as he was all alone in front of the net.
Nittany Lion goaltender Skoff was finally beaten by Holy Cross with 12:59 left in third period as the Crusaders cut the score to 4-1. On four-on-four play with Nittany Lion Conway and Crusader Jake Youso in the box for high sticking, Jake Bolton ended Skoff's shutout bid with a shot from the left circle that found its way in.
Conway picked up his first of the afternoon for the 5-1 score after slipping through the Holy Cross defense and going forehand-backhand-forehand on Ginn from the doorstep, flipping the puck over the goaltender to tack on his first goal as a Nittany Lion.
Pre-Pegula-donation commit Jacob Friedman added his first goal since the 2012-13 season to widen Penn State's lead to 6-1 on a rebound chance that chased senior captain goaltender Ginn from the net for freshman backstopper Paul Berrafato.
The freshman netminder let in one goal, Conway's second of the contest to make it 7-1 with 1:37 to play in the game, and saved three other Penn State shots in his 4:13 of work to finish out the game.
The Nittany Lions outshot Holy Cross again, this time by a lesser margin of 45-29. In all six games Penn State has played in this season, they have outshot their opponents in every single one, holding a 242-175 advantage after the third week of the year.
Unlike last week, Penn State held both of their leads during the third periods of both games over the weekend and came away with two solid wins. Both the 3-1 and 7-1 contests were close coming into the final frame - it was a 1-0 game Friday and a 2-0 game Sunday going into the second intermission - but the Nittany Lions held their ground and eventually pulled away for the victories.
"I thought that's a big step," Gadowsky said of the improvements in the third period. "Obviously, you don't get a grade for mental toughness on two games alone, but it certainly is a nice step to show the guys they can have confidence and they can do it."
If there's anything to be negative about for the Nittany Lions, it's that they beat a very beatable team in Holy Cross and that their schedule is going to get a lot tougher from here. In two weeks time, Penn State will head on a road trip to face UMass Lowell, Michigan, Cornell, Wisconsin, and others that will last them throughout the new year to Jan. 5, where they'll take on Ohio State back home for the first time in over two months.
The easy part of their schedule is almost over and while Penn State has mostly risen to the challenge so far, their competition is going to get a lot harder in a very, very short amount of time.