Penn State Continues to Build Momentum in Win over MSU
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State (8-7-0, 3-4-0 Big Ten) topped Michigan State (7-6-0, 1-4-0) on Friday night with a dominating 7-2 performance.
The Nittany Lions were looking to carry over momentum after notching their first series sweep of the season last weekend at Arizona State, and they didn’t have to wait long to see it manifest.
Kris Myllari snuck one past Michigan State’s goaltender John Lethemon just one minute into the game, then Evan Barratt scored to give the Nittany Lions a two-goal lead at 2:13 in the first period.
After a Michigan State goal by Taro Hirose looked like it might stop the bleeding, Liam Folkes quickly answered for Penn State to make the score 3-1. The Spartans were forced to sub out their sophomore starter Lethemon for senior backup Ed Minney after Folkes’ goal, and the first period wasn’t yet halfway over.
Sam Sternschein tacked on another goal for Penn State at 18:02 in the first, and the Nittany Lions closed the period with a commanding 4-1 lead.
Penn State didn’t waste time getting back to business in the second period. Sternschein scored his second goal of the night just 53 seconds after the puck dropped.
Jones denied Michigan State’s Brennan Sanford a breakaway opportunity in the first, but Sanford got another breakaway 12:45 into the second and beat Jones that time to make the score 5-2.
It looked like the Spartans had a chance to make it a game after Sanford’s goal, but Folkes answered again less than two minutes later for his second of the night on a laser from the right circle to bring the Nittany Lions’ lead back to four. After that goal, the game was never in doubt.
The Spartans couldn’t find the back of the net in the third period, despite a five-on-three advantage at one point, while Andrew Sturtz scored his eighth of the season to put a 7-2 Nittany Lion victory on ice.
Despite starting the season ranked 10th in both the USCHO and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls, the Nittany Lions have struggled in 2017 and failed to receive any votes for the first time this season in the polls released last Sunday, even after two wins against a weak Arizona State team.
That could change next time the polls come out if Penn State dominates the Spartans again Saturday, as Michigan State received votes – though they were not ranked – in the latest edition of the USCHO poll.
Goalie Peyton Jones, who was a key part of Penn State’s run to the NCAA tournament last season, put together one of his best performances of season the against the Spartans. He made several great saves early, including on two Michigan State breakaway chances in the first period. He surrendered just two goals on 29 shots Friday, possibly assuaging some of the early-season concern that his performance had dropped off from the high level he maintained for most of the 2016-17 campaign.
Penn State’s defense was shaky early in the game, but Jones repeatedly bailed out his team.
“Peyton came up big for us,” head coach Guy Gadowsky said. “When we were at our worst, he was at his best.”
After a questionable start, the Nittany Lions managed to pick up the defensive slack and get back to the strong play that’s characterized their last few games. In their last four matchups, including Friday night against the Spartans, Penn State allowed just five goals. This comes after the Nittany Lions were scored on 22 times in the four games before that.
“I think it’s a team mentality thing, not just a goaltending thing,” Gadowsky said of his team’s rapid defensive turnaround.
With their recent success and a chance to get back to .500 in the Big Ten play Saturday, Penn State may be on the verge of turning around not just its defensive play, but its whole season.
Tyler Olson is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism and political science. To contact him, email email@example.com.