Freshmen come up large in opener; Offense still searching for identity
After coming away with a 3-1 victory Sunday afternoon over a second-year program in Long Island, the Penn State men’s hockey team was not fully satisfied with its work. The return of fans and the lively Roar Zone gave the home team the energy it needed to find an opening day win.
The main story of the game resides on the third forward line for coach Guy Gadowsky’s squad. Center Chase McLane and wingers Ryan Kirwan and Danny Dzhaniyev ignited the Nittany Lions offense and all of Pegula Ice Arena.
Kirwan initiated the scoring for Penn State in the opening period, smashing home a power-play goal in the low slot to give the Nittany Lions their first lead of the year. Dzhaniyev was responsible for the primary assist and freshman Simon Mack chipped in with the secondary.
McLane would light the lamp minutes later, benefitting from a strong wrap-around play from Kirwan. Dzhaniyev found his second assist; this time he would receive the secondary assist. The stout third line contributed a combined five points after the first two goals.
“It was a lot of fun. Great pass by Danny, my linemate. It was a good game. I thought we were going around there in the first period doing a good job of staying on top of them, and we got rewarded for it,” uttered Kirwan when asked about his reaction to his first goal and assist.
The pace from the Nittany Lions turned sluggish in the middle period. Known as the period of the long change, Penn State was sloppy with its line changes and prompted Long Island offensive chances.
“We were playing slow. We played a slow, long game and not a short, fast game,” stated Gadowsky about his team’s play during the middle frame.
Despite the lack of pace, Penn State did not forfeit a goal in the second period, giving itself a 2-0 advantage when the final 20 minutes rolled around.
The Sharks asserted themselves on the scoreboard when a defenseman collided with goaltender Oskar Autio. The Finnish netminder played with his hair on fire in the last period to preserve the lead.
Autio even found himself on the scoresheet. He recorded the only assist on the third and final goal for the Nittany Lions on Sunday. Junior first-line winger Connor McMenamin secured the goal to crush the hopes of a Long Island comeback.
The tally was the eleventh in the collegiate career of McMenamin. He now has a total of 28 points in his college tenure.
The ultimate takeaway for the Nittany Lions: the offense needs to be more assertive and get into the dirty areas of the attacking zone. A majority of Penn State shot opportunities were blocked by Long Island skaters. The Sharks marked an astonishing 31 blocked shots during the contest.
“Make plays faster. Penn State hockey is shots on net and goals. Tomorrow night, we just need to go out there, shoot the puck, and get it through,” was the response McMenamin gave on how the Nittany Lions look to find their offensive identity.
Penn State has a quick turnaround as it battles Long Island again Monday at 7 p.m. at Pegula Ice Arena.
Evan Popalis is a third-year studying broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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