Third line dazzles in opener; Autio outstanding down the stretch
The Penn State men’s hockey team came away with a 3-1 win as it hit the ice for its season opener Sunday afternoon. The Nittany Lions played host to Long Island University; a program that is entering its second year of existence.
In the beginning stages of the game, the energy was intense and both squads were playing extremely physically. That seemed to be the name of the game throughout the opener.
At the 15:39 mark of the opening period, freshman Ryan Kirwan tallied his first goal as a member of the Nittany Lions. The DeWitt, New York native sent a jolt of adrenaline through the entire crowd, giving Penn State a 1-0 lead. All of the contributors on the initial goal of the season were freshmen. Forward Danny Dzhaniyev and defenseman Simon Mack tossed in assists on the goal.
Less than three and a half minutes later, Kirwan initiated a strong pursuit towards the Long Island goal. He forced a wrap-around attempt, leaving the puck in front to be poked home by linemate Chase McLane. For the sophomore from Michigan, it was his fourth-career lamplighter at the collegiate level. Dzhaniyev found himself on the receiving end of the secondary assist as Penn State pushed the advantage to two goals.
“I think it’s a great start for him. I do like, also, the way he changed for the team in the third period,” stated head coach Guy Gadowsky about Kirwan’s exceptional play in the opener.
The second period witnessed no goals with both teams continuing to create bone-crushing hits. Near the end of the middle frame, an interference penalty was assessed to Long Island’s Tyler Welsh. The Sharks would use their coaches’ challenge to put a Kevin Wall check into question. After review, the referees determined the hit to be a major penalty along with a game misconduct against Penn State’s Wall.
The Nittany Lions would fight off the penalty to end the second period and begin the third. The visiting Sharks never went away quietly in the battle, sinking their teeth into a grueling final 20 minutes.
Welsh cut the deficit in half, scoring unassisted at the 13:43 mark of the period. The British Columbia native centers the top line for head coach Brett Riley and his staff.
As both teams traded chances during the final five minutes, it would be the men in white sweaters gaining the two-goal advantage once more. First-line winger Connor McMenamin found the scoresheet with his first of the year. McMenamin now has 11 goals in his Penn State career after racking up ten goals and 17 assists throughout his collegiate tenure.
Goaltender Oskar Autio was the recipient of the assist on the McMenamin goal. It felt fitting for the Nittany Lions netminder to score a point after the day he had in the blue paint. Autio stopped 23 shots from the Sharks on 24 opportunities.
“We were okay, but when we weren’t, he was very good,” discussed Gadowsky about Autio’s play towards the closing minutes.
A couple of key stops down the final stretch allowed Penn State to hold on to the lead and the eventual 3-1 victory.
Long Island recorded a stunning 31 blocked shots when it was all said and done. The massive number helped out goalie Kris Carlson who recorded 31 saves on 34 shots.
The series continues on Monday as puck drop is set for 7 pm at Pegula Ice Arena.
Evan Popalis is a third-year studying broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.