Penn State's final home non-conference series of the season was one to remember, after a total of 19 goals were tallied between the Nittany Lions (12-7-4) and the Northern Michigan Wildcats (9-9-6) over the course of two games. The Nittany Lions came away from the weekend with the 1-0-1 split, forcing two multi-goal third period comebacks over the weekend with a gutsy 5-4 victory Friday night and forcing a 5-5 tie Saturday evening.
Friday: 5-4 win vs. Northern Michigan
Comebacks have been the story for the Nittany Lions over the last few weeks and for the third Friday in a row, Penn State rallied from being down multiple goals. However this time, they pulled off their first win in three tries and won their series-opener for the first time since the beginning of December.
A 4-1 Wildcat lead was stifled by Dylan Richard's three point evening and freshman Scott Conway's game winning goal lifted Penn State past Northern Michigan for their third win in four games.
The game all started Penn State's way, after Richard pocketed his first goal of the evening 82 seconds into the match. Conway was tripped up by Northern Michigan's Reed Seckel while the freshman was exiting the defensive zone, giving Penn State an early power play opportunity. It took just 38 seconds for the Nittany Lions to cash in, with Curtis Loik's shot on Wildcat goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom that rebounded right off the pads to Richard and the forward made the easy play on the netminder's glove side to open the game 1-0 for Penn State.
However, Penn State took their foot off the gas in the second, allowing Northern Michigan to score four unanswered goals in what looked to be an insurmountable lead with the careless play of the Nittany Lions.
One minute and 41 seconds into the middle frame, Barrett Kaib cashed in on Dominik Shine's pass from the right circle that Penn State starting goaltender Matt Skoff could not stop with his pads for the 1-1 tie.
The situation quickly deteriorated for Penn State, with the Wildcats striking two minutes later on Ryan Kesti's shot from Skoff's doorstep with no defense to be seen to take the 2-1 lead.
With 8:06 to play in the second period, Sami Salminen increased the Wildcat lead to 3-1 off a mad scramble in front of the Penn State cage and the Northern Michigan winger jabbed it home.
It became 4-1 three minutes later off of a mistake by Skoff, who tried to make a glove save on a long Kaib shot but the puck hit the top of the junior's glove instead and fell slowly over his shoulder and in.
Skoff didn't see any more action in the game, making 15 saves through his 35 minutes of play, and was replaced by senior PJ Musico after the fourth Northern Michigan goal.
Penn State got a much needed goal to end the second period and cut the lead down to 4-2 on Casey Bailey's power play tally. With the extra man, Loik fed a pass to the junior at the top left circle and the forward fired off his signature one-timer, beating Dahlstrom with 23 seconds left in the frame.
The Nittany Lion comeback looked to be halted by a Luke Juha tripping call 2:24 into the final frame, but Richard picked up his second goal of the evening on a shorthanded tally to trim the Wildcat lead back to just one. With a minute gone in the penalty, Eric Scheid made a blocked shot and picked up the loose puck on a breakaway. Dahlstrom saved the initial attempt by Scheid but was not able to stop a trailing Richard, who put the rebound in while just avoiding the backchecking of a Wildcat defender.
After a period of Penn State pressure, David Glen tied the game with 5:40 remaining in the match after David Thompson's right point shot hit the forward's stick in the slot and the deflection beat Dahlstrom as the goaltender was looking for the puck up high.
Conway came away with the game winner for Penn State two minutes and 20 seconds later, tapping home a rebound from Dahlstrom after the netminder was thrown out of position in a scramble in front of his net to cap off the Nittany Lions' well deserved 5-4 comeback win.
Also deserving of praise is backup Musico, who stopped all 11 shots faced after coming in cold to win his first of the year.
The Nittany Lions dominated the shot count, besting Northern Michigan 53-30, picking up 21 of those shots in the first period alone. Penn State held Northern Michigan to zero power play goals on three attempts, while special teams came up big for the Nittany Lions with one shorthanded goal and two power play tallies on six attempts.
Saturday: 5-5 tie vs. Northern Michigan
Ten goals, 60 penalty minutes, and appearances by both backup goaltenders highlighted Penn State's 5-5 tie with Northern Michigan Saturday afternoon. Penn State erased another three goal Wildcat lead with a 5-2 goal run through the final 40 minutes of play to finish their last non-conference series.
The Nittany Lions tacked on a season-high 64 shots on goal and Eric Scheid put up two goals and one assist to spark the second rally in as many days.
Penn State almost had the first goal of the game 53 seconds into the match, on what was believed to be a quick score from forward Curtis Loik. A dump in took a strange hop in front of goaltender Dahlstrom and Nittany Lion captain Patrick Koudys scooped up the puck and fired a fast shot that was stopped by the Wildcat netminder, but the rebound found Loik and the junior shot a laser through traffic. However, freshman James Robinson looked to interfere with Dahlstrom's ability to get to the puck in the crease and the refs waved the potential score off the board.
After the scare, Northern Michigan tallied three straight goals in the period on Penn State sophomore netminder Eamon McAdam, who was eventually pulled after the first 20 minutes.
Just at the halfway mark of the first, the Wildcats got a 2-on-1 breakaway and Dominik Shine's while skating down the wing from the right circle looked to hit McAdam off his helmet that looked to cause quite a bit of discomfort. The goaltender could not track down the rebound as the winger tapped in the marker for the 1-0 Northern Michigan lead.
Ryan Kesti doubled Northern Michigan's lead with 5:18 left in the period on another rebound given up by McAdam that he could not find in time. A shot swung McAdam to the left of his goal crease and Kesti put home the big rebound from the netminder to his right off a quick shot that hit post and in.
Zach Urban continued the bleeding with a wrister from the point in the last minute of the period that found its way into the back of the net through traffic that evaded McAdam completely and the Wildcats skated to a 3-0 lead heading into the first intermission.
The Nittany Lions replaced McAdam -- who had five saves on eight total shots through the first 20 -- with Musico in net for the senior's second action of the weekend to start the middle frame. Then, Dahlstrom left the contest within the first two minutes of the second period after he was cut on his hand during a Penn State scramble in his crease and junior Michael Doan took up residence in the net in his place.
Penn State's first goal of the evening came on their fourth shorthanded tally of the year -- and second that weekend -- from Scheid past the halfway point of the game with 7:29 to play in the second. On the penalty kill, in a nearly solo effort, Scheid skated coast to coast around the five Wildcat players on the ice before depositing the puck past Doan. The junior cut across the crease from left to right and out-waited Doan before putting a backhander top shelf to stop the Northern Michigan momentum in its tracks.
Goals were exchanged as the Wildcats regained the three goal lead once more after both teams took coincidental minor penalties for some 4-on-4 action. Reed Seckel's snipe from a hard angle went high stick side on Musico beat the netminder two and a half minutes after Penn State cut the lead down to two.
Then Penn State captain Patrick Koudys blasted a shot from the left point that hit Ricky DeRosa in traffic to beat Doan high with 2:08 left in the second to put the Nittany Lions down 4-2.
With 41 seconds left in the frame, Scheid made it a one goal deficit using his talented hands to deke Doan out of his skates on a breakaway. Scheid pulled a few moves on the netminder then slid a backhand through the five-hole of Doan as Pegula Ice Arena went nuts heading into the third period.
The former captain of Penn State tied the game at four when Tommy Olczyk tallied the equalizer just 3:09 into the period. With Dahlstrom back in net after receiving stitches to his hand, the goaltender was put out of position on a mad scramble in the crease and Max Gardiner's attempt on net came back to Olczyk, who was left all alone at the right post to finish the play.
Darren Nowick quieted the Penn State crowd with 13:05 to go in the period to give Northern Michigan the lead back 5-4. A high slap shot on the power play beat Musico for his seventh of the year.
The tension that was building since the end of Friday's game came to a head after Penn State banged in the final goal of the evening with 6:12 to play. Dylan Richard batted Scheid's high shot up and over Dahlstrom, but the forward was unceremoniously hit into the goaltender for his contributions and equipment was dropped behind the net as each player on the ice attempted to square off with a partner. Captain Koudys put more fuel in the fire after butt-ending his Wildcat companion with his stick.
Koudys and Seckel were booted from the game with five minute majors and 10 minute game misconducts to end their nights.
No goals were netted in the five minute overtime that followed and Penn State took the exhibition shootout loss in four rounds, having won none of their four chances this season.
Penn State doubled up Northern Michigan in the shot count, taking it to the Wildcats 64-29, and Musico saved 19 of his 21 shots faced in the evening, putting his record at 1-1-1 for the year.
Nineteen total penalties were called during the 65 minute match, and the Wildcats put in one of their five power play chances while Penn State went 0-for-6.
PJ Musico sees limited action as the third of three Penn State netminders, but the backup came in cold twice over the weekend and was key to the Nittany Lions' 1-0-1 split. The laid-back senior from California had 30 saves and allowed only two goals during his 70 minutes of playing time, improving on the one loss on his record with a win and a tie.
"He kept us in there," head coach Guy Gadowsky said after Friday's game. "He gave us a spirt, like he gave us a bit of a kick in the pants and made a huge save right out of the gate and then a few huge ones later.
"I just give that guy a lot of credit. He's a great athlete, I think that's really his biggest attribute but he loves mental challenges and boy, we needed him [Friday]. He was exceptional."
The last few weeks have seen Penn State fall behind a fair few number of goals then find their gear and somehow manage to tie or win the game against the odds. While that may be fun hockey to watch, the team cannot live and die by the comeback role and need to find a way to manage a complete game.
"That's playing with fire. That's really something we cannot keep doing," Dylan Richard said Friday of their comeback tendencies. "As this team goes on we might not be able to keep that up so we really need to get away from that, not take any shifts and periods off and just play a full game."
Weekend Standout Players
- F Dylan Richard: 3 goals, 2 assists
- F Eric Scheid: 2 goals, 3 assists
- G PJ Musico: 30 saves on 32 shots (Season: .913 SV%, 2.37 GAA)
Penn State heads to Philadelphia next weekend to play their last non-conference opponent in Vermont (15-8-2) as a part of the third annual College Hockey Faceoff. The game will be on Jan. 31 at 1 p.m., with Penn State's record in the event at 1-1-0 after last year's 4-2 win over the Catamounts.
The Penn State women's team (13-10-3, 7-4-1 CHA) split their weekend against non-conference opponent New Hampshire, taking a 2-0 shutout loss Friday but rebounding for the 3-1 win Saturday. To read more on their weekend, check out my recap on Victory Bell Rings here.