Penn State Struggles Against Perennial Power Air Force
The Penn State Nittany Lions (5-3-0) dropped the opener of a weekend series against the visiting Air Force Falcons (3-3-3, 2-1-1 AHA) 5-1 Friday night at Greenberg Ice Pavilion.
Penn State came out with a relentless fore-check early pinning the Falcons into their own end while creating a few scoring chances. However, it was the Falcons that got on the board first at the 12:03 mark of the period. Penn State got caught on a line change and Air Force countered the other way with a 4-on-3 rush where Casey Kleisinger rip home a wrist shot for early 1-0 lead. Goaltender P.J. Musico was screened on the play. This was the third straight game in which Penn State surrendered the first goal. They fell behind both Sacred Heart and Buffalo State 1-0.
Right after the goal, Falcons defenseman Dan Weissenhofer took an elbowing minor penalty giving the Nittany Lions a power play opportunity. Penn State gave up more opportunities shorthanded then chances generated. P.J. Musico did make a huge save on Air Force’s leading scorer Jason Fabian, who broke into the zone all alone.
Penn State would have two more chances in the period to score on the power play but couldn’t capitalize. Air Force’s defenseman did a great job all game of gathering the puck off the boards and clearing the zone. Penn State looked confused and disorganized and couldn’t get anything started all night. The Lions were 0-6 on the power play on the night leaving them 4-40 on the power play for the year.
Despite the loss Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky thought it was a good hockey gamer overall.
“Obviously I’m disappointed to lose but not entirely disappointed in the effort,” Gadowsky said. “We have to get better to have success against a very good team like Air Force but I think we are there and going in the right direction.”
The beginning of the second period saw sloppy play from both teams as both squads were struggling to establish a rhythm. That all changed with a Kyle De Laurell goal on an odd-man rush giving the Falcons a 2-0 lead. The real story on the goal was the backhand spin-o-rama pass from Cole Gunner to De Laurell. P.J. Musico had no chance on the goal.
Air Force goaltender Jason Torf played spectacular tonight making 34 saves on 35 shots including an unbelievable glove save on Casey Bailey in the second period where Torf went pipe-to-pipe to make the save. His coach Frank Serratore praised him after the game.
“He was unbelievable,” Serratore said. “We won because the best player on the ice happened to be in our goal.”
Serratore said in his post-game presser that he was not pleased with his team’s effort tonight despite coming away with the win.
“I want to tell you right now Penn State deserved a better outcome then that,” Serratore said. “We were awful. It was slop fest. I never had a team in 25 years play that badly and win by a 5-1 score. We’ve got a better chance at hitting the power ball then we do then winning again playing that poorly.”
Serratore cited Air Force’s two too many men on the ice penalties, turnovers at the offensive blueline, and giving up a shorthanded goal as reasons why his team played so poorly.
Chad Demers would extend the Falcons lead to 3-0 on an awful turnover by Luke Juha in the defensive zone that ended up in the back of the net. That goal was a microcosm of the game for the Nittany Lions. Despite outshooting the Falcons 35-24 for the game, Penn State was not sharp in either ends of the ice all game. They had little to no pressure on the power play, no signs of physical play, and were outworked by the Falcons. The defense corps as whole struggled Friday.
“I thought our defense was the weaker of the two tonight,” Gadowsky said. “We struggled back there. We did not have a great night on defense. We gave up a lot more opportunities then we should.”
Penn State would gain life again on a Justin Kirchhevel shorthanded goal breakaway goal cutting Air Force’s lead to 3-1. That goal was the first in Penn State’s NCAA history. All the momentum Penn State received on Kirchhevel’s goal was erased by a Stephen Carew power play goal a little over a minute later as the Falcons extended their lead to 4-1.
For Kirchhevel, that goal ended a five game pointless streak for him.
“It’s definitely bittersweet I think to get the first goal out of the way,” Kirchhevel said.
Tony Thomas would add an empty net goal with 3:28 remaining to seal the deal for Air Force.
Penn State will look to bounce back Saturday against Air Force. Puck drop is slated for 7:30.
Tom Zulewski is senior majoring in journalism. To contact him, e-mail email@example.com.