Penn State Splits Home-Opening Series with AIC
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Hockey Valley returned in style to Pegula Ice Arena Thursday and Friday night.
The defending Big Ten champion Penn State men’s hockey team opened their 2017-2018 homestand with a mixed weekend of hockey against American International College, or AIC. The Nittany Lions hung on in the first game to win 7-5 but evaporated in a game two 3-2 loss in overtime to the Yellow Jackets.
The Nittany Lions raised their first Big Ten championship banner in Pegula Ice Arena before the start of Thursday’s game. Penn State defeated Wisconsin 2-1 in two overtimes to win the 2016 conference tournament title.
Penn State came into the weekend with a record of 2-2. They split their first Big Ten series of the season last weekend on the road at Minnesota, who won the Big Ten regular season title last season. They are the fourth-highest-ranked Big Ten team in the country to begin 2017.
Oddly enough, AIC was the first series opponent the Nittany Lions played as a Division I program in 2012. They split the series and both games went to overtime.
After the banner was raised, Penn State came out with some early home season jitters. They were having trouble getting their offense set up and the Yellow Jacket defense was doing a good job. The early rust hit a low when the Nittany Lion defense fell apart just over five minutes in and let up a goal.
That triggered the old Penn State offense. They came alive from there on to pepper AIC goalie Alex Murray with 22 shots and dominate time of possession. Murray was doing a great job, but it was only a matter of time before Penn State broke through. Defenseman Trevor Hamilton opened the scoring with a shot in on the doorstep to tie the game 1-1.
Andrew Sturtz tacked on a shorthanded goal later off a two-on-one breakaway with Chase Berger and the Penn State offense was fully rolling. They ended the period with a 22-7 shot advantage.
The Nittany Lions picked up right where they left off, hurling shots in on Murray and playing with a stifling forecheck to keep AIC off offense. Liam Folkes flicked home a power play goal from the wing, but AIC shot right back with a breakaway wrister by goalie Peyton Jones.
Cole Hults danced into the crease with 10:00 to play to put home his first collegiate goal and push the lad to 4-2. For all the domination, Penn State only led 5-3 after two and gave up easy, lackadaisical goals.
Penn State opened the third with two quick goals from Denis Smirnov and Kris Myllari to build a 7-3 lead, but AIC powered back thanks to the help of sloppy, not crisp passing or puck possession. Penn State let up a shorthanded goal to Shawn McBride and then five minutes later a five-on-three goal to Hugo Reinhardt.
Thankfully, there wasn’t more time in the game because AIC was rolling. The Nittany Lions hung on for the victory 7-5. Head coach Guy Gadowsky explained the changes defensively that needed to be made for game two, but was sound and impressed with his team’s performance.
“Today we had our feet going a little bit,” Gadowsky said. “We seemed to have a little bit more energy going.”
Defense was much better for both squads to start the first period of the Friday game. Neither team had many shots early on and neither team could get any offense set up because of strong forechecks. It was so bad that Penn State couldn’t get a single shot off five minutes in.
The Nittany Lions got on the board from Cole Hults second goal of the season and second in two days on a beautiful set up power play. The passing got crisper and faster as the period went on and better yet, Penn State held off response attempts from the Yellow Jackets. At the end of one, Penn State led 1-0 with backup goaltender Chris Funkey in goal.
The offense completely dissipated for Penn State in the second. As a team, they only rattled off nine shots. Their offensive execution was horrible, rusty and a shell of what it was last night when they led with 45 shots.
Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets found their spark and jumped on it. They jumped to 17 shots overall and peppered Funkey throughout, controlling the puck most of the period. Forward Jared Pike for AIC finally broke through on an offensive rush and put it past Funkey to tie it at 1-1.
Penn State was way too sloppy and slow on the puck throughout. The period ended 1-1 in a close tie.
The first nine minutes of the third were the same as before, but then Penn State started to turn it up and get their offense rolling. Nate Sucese roped his second goal of the season roughly nine minutes in.
The AIC response was too much and moments later, Yellow Jacket Dominik Florian caught Funkey off guard to tie it up 2-2 and that’s how it went into overtime.
Overtime was much worse for Penn State, who never got anything set up and their defense was spotty. AIC forward Darius Davidson got a breakaway alone and beat Funkey for the win. A lackluster effort for the Lions ended in defeat.
Gadowsky was much more disappointed after tonight’s game than Thursday and attacked the teamwork problems they have to fix.
“It’s hard to score goals in hockey,” Gadowsky said. “You have to have grit and pull your own weight and we aren’t doing that well right now.”
The split improved AIC to 1-5-1. This was a huge series to notch their first win of the season.
The Blue and White now sit at 3-3-0 on the season. They will host the Michigan Wolverines next weekend, who Penn State swept in Pegula last season. The first game is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday.
Matthew Harvey is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and history. To contact him, email email@example.com.