Penn State Dominates Sacred Heart in Home Opener
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State took down Sacred Heart 8-2 to open their 2019-2020 campaign and it didn’t take long for the No. 13 Nittany Lions to get things going.
Following an early high sticking penalty from Sacred Heart, Alex Limoges perfectly redirected a shot on the power play and tallied the first goal of the season for the Nittany Lions.
At the midway point of the frame, Penn State managed to generate a wide-open scoring opportunity from the slot. Junior Cole Hults was able to convert on a wrister, giving the Nittany Lions a two-goal lead that they would maintain for the remainder of the period.
In the second period, however, the Nittany Lions were largely outplayed. Sacred Heart outshot Penn State 11-1 to start the period before ultimately netting a goal of their own.
Fortunately for the Lions, no permanent damage was done. Hults responded shortly after with his second score of the game, neutralizing the goal from Sacred Heart’s Marc Johnstone. The Nittany Lions were able to head into the locker room with a two-goal lead once again, despite an overall sloppy performance on both ends of the ice.
The man who solely kept Penn State ahead in the second period was goaltender Peyton Jones. The senior dazzled the crowd with multiple sequences of impressive saves, and he thwarted a few major attacks from the Pioneer offense.
Sacred Heart was undoubtedly the aggressor at that point in the game, and Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky recognized that things could’ve been much worse for the Lions if it weren’t for Jones’ stellar outing.
“It's not often in an 8-2 game that you think your goaltender saved you, but I really feel that way because we really weren't ourselves until the third,” Gadowsky said. “Peyton was mentally tough and he was ready to play. We needed him early, and he made huge saves.”
Jones didn’t have to carry anywhere near as much of the load in the final frame. While he did allow another goal five minutes into the period, it didn’t matter all that much. The Nittany Lion offense had been fully resurrected and there was no way of stopping it.
Penn State tacked on five goals in the last 20 minutes of play—tied for the most goals Penn State has ever scored in a period. One of those goals came off the hot stick of Hults, who is now the first defenseman in program history to record a hat trick.
“It’s cool,” Hults said. “I try to put an emphasis on my game to shoot more pucks and be more active around the blue line. I just wanted to make a statement doing that.”
After a handful of hats were cleared from the ice, the remaining four goals were scored by Nate Sucese, Aarne Talvitie, Sam Sternschein, and freshman Connor MacEachern. While reflecting on MacEachern’s performance, Gadowsky stated that, aside from Jones, it was the freshmen who shined the most when the team struggled.
“The freshmen line, I thought, was our best line,” Gadowsky said. “For the first half of the game, I honestly think that our returners were trying to be pretty cute. We certainly weren't playing our game, and they were the one line that seemed to buy into our identity.”
The rest of the team certainly followed suit, as they found a way to flip the switch and secure a dominant opening night win.
“We just put an emphasis on the little things,” Hults said. “Putting the puck behind the [defense]—we kind of put a pricetag on that, and I think that’s what really got us going.”
The Nittany Lions are now 4-0-1 in season openers at Pegula Ice Arena. With another matchup against Sacred Heart on Saturday, Penn State has a chance to walk away with the program’s first ever opening series sweep.
Saturday’s rematch between the Nittany Lions and the Pioneers gets underway at 4:30 p.m.
Connor Griffin is a sophomore majoring in Broadcast Journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.