Penn State Earns First Win of Season, Defeats RPI 2-0
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Penn State Nittany Lions earned their first victory of the 2019-20 season, defeating the RPI Engineers 2-0 at Pegula Ice Arena on Friday.
The Nittany Lions began their season on a brutal road trip, tying twice with Holy Cross before being swept by the defending champion, No. 1 Wisconsin, which outscored Penn State by a combined score of 10-0 in two games.
Falling to 0-2-2 quickly, Penn State entered Friday looking to earn its first win of the season. Its opponent, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, also entered looking for its first victory after beginning the season 0-4.
Thanks to goals from junior forward Natalie Heising and senior forward Amanda McLeod, it was the Nittany Lions who came out of Friday’s battle of winless teams with that coveted first victory.
The Nittany Lions were able to put constant pressure on freshman goaltender Ena Nystrom, recording 31 shots on goal in Friday’s match. For the most part, Nystrom was reliable, allowing only two of 31 to get past her. But those two misses, a rebound shot from Heising in the first period and a sneaky tap-in by McLeod in the third, would be the deciding factor.
Heising’s first-period goal was especially important, as it broke a 143-minute scoring drought for the Nittany Lions.
“I was kind of angling [the puck] off the boards,” Heising said. “I shot the puck up the middle of the ice, [Nystrom] blocked it, then I just kind of left it, saw the top of the right corner, and put it away.”
McLeod’s goal almost didn’t count as all, as it was initially called a stick save by RPI senior forward Megan Hayes. A full minute of play continued before the puck was stopped, finally allowing officials to review McLeod’s shot. After deliberation, the shot counted, and McLeod was awarded with her first goal of the season.
“I just went to the net, and it was a rebound off the pad,” McLeod said. “I knew it crossed the line. My hands were up [in celebration].”
The real story of the game is how well Penn State’s defense played. The Nittany Lions allowed only 9 shots from RPI for the entirety of the match, all of which were saved by junior goalie Chantal Burke, who recorded her first career shutout. The 2-0 victory also marked the first time since Jan. 20 of last season that the Nittany Lions have blanked an opponent.
“I think our defense has always been a really strong part of our game, regardless of who we’re playing,” Heising said. “For us, we know that as long we’re strong on D and we’re confident back there, we can break the puck out, block shots, make good passes out of the D-zone, and then turn that around to have strong offensive play and get a lot of shots on their goalie.”
Penn State also shined on the penalty kill. In a relatively clean game in which the Nittany Lions sent only two to the box for checking penalties, they were able to quell both RPI power-play opportunities.
For head coach Jeff Kampersal, there’s always a way to improve. With both goals being unassisted, Kampersal highlighted the importance of improving the passing game.
“We work so hard, but we need to move the puck a little bit more through the middle of the rink and the offensive zone,” Kampersal said. “Against Wisconsin, we were throwing together five or six passes in a row on consecutive plays, so we need to go back to supporting one another through passing, takeovers and getting our defenders involved.”
Penn State and RPI will finish this two-game series at 1 p.m. on Saturday. After a weekend trip to Providence and a homestand against Boston University in late October, the Nittany Lions will begin CHA play at Robert Morris, starting on Nov. 1.
DJ Bauer is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.