Dream over; Penn State nearly pulls off massive upset over Michigan, but fall 2-1 in overtime
ALLENTOWN, Pa. - One of the toughest realities to face in all of hockey is leaving everything out on the ice only to come up short in overtime.
Penn State was one goal away from the program’s first-ever Frozen Four appearance but fell in the extra session by a score of 2-1 to the top-seeded team in the Allentown region, rivals Michigan.
For Paul DeNaples, the Nittany Lion captain for the past two seasons, this was his final game and it was an emotional ending.
DeNaples blocked two shots in his last contest and added an assist on the Nittany Lions' lone goal.
Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky preached culture all season and as captain of the blue and white DeNaples was a massive reason the Nittany Lions grew so much in the locker room.
When asked about his time as captain after the game, Denaples said, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get through this.”
After a few emotional beats, DeNaples got into what it meant to be captain of the Nittany Lions.
“It’s an honor,” DeNaples said, “very lucky to have the chance to come play here, extremely lucky to go to be the captain of such an incredible program, I’m going to remember the rest of my life.”
DeNaples fought back tears as he said those words ending his tenure as just the second player in Nittany Lion history to be captain for multiple seasons.
He not only leaves behind a rejuvenated culture but a plethora of individual program records.
DeNaples did not miss a single game over his Nittany Lion career setting a program record with 172 games played. He also leaves the program with the best plus/minus in team history with a plus-58 rating.
DeNaples led by example all season long and in the battle against the Wolverines all Nittany Lions played like it was their own final game.
Junior netminder Liam Souliere stopped 41 of 43 Michigan shots making big save after big save to keep the game close, especially in the first period.
Michigan's first-year head coach Brandon Naurato had nothing but praise for the Nittany Lion netminder.
“I think their goalie was outstanding too, we could have had three or four goals,” Naurato said.
Souliere was honored with a spot on the Allentown Regional All-Tournament Team. He was joined by fellow Nittany Lions defenseman Christian Berger and centerman Connor MacEachern.
The opening frame surprisingly ended scoreless as Michigan carried a lot of the play, but Penn State weathered the storm and road its hot goaltender.
The second period saw Penn State’s lone goal of the game coming thanks to the powerplay.
MacEachern found a juicy rebound off Wolverine netminder Erik Portillo’s pad and buried the puck into a gaping cage.
The blue and white’s specialty units that struggled all year long served as a surprising strength as Penn State went 1/1 on the powerplay and killed off the first three Michigan man advantages.
However, the Nittany Lion penalty-killing unit finally buckled after freshman Carter Schade was sent to the box for holding.
None other than Hobey Baker finalist and potential second overall selection in the upcoming NHL draft Adam Fantilli found a loose puck at the side of the goal and roofed it over Souliere’s shoulder and under the crossbar to knot the game at one.
Penn State responded well putting loads of pressure on Michigan defenders during the final eight minutes of regulation but failed to find the game-winning goal.
The Nittany Lions went to the locker room before overtime feeling good about their play, but that would not last long.
Just 52 seconds into overtime Michigan’s Dylan Duke dropped a pass to Mackie Samoskevich taking the defending player with him and allowing Samoskevich to step into the high slot.
Samoskevich let go a wicked shot beating Souliere through traffic and just like that Penn State’s dream of the program’s first Frozen Four bid died as Michigan collected its record 27th appearance.
For minutes, Souliere stood frozen in his net as Nittany Lion players came to console him. Most of the Penn State team stood still in their defensive zone before handshakes.
Some Penn State players watched Michigan’s celebration before heading back to the locker room.
It was clear on the ice in the aftermath that not only did the Nittany Lions care deeply about the game, but also deeply for each other.
Coach Gadowsky emphasized the hard work and passion his players had to get to this point after the game.
“I think what I’m most grateful for is not what they saw at the end of the game, but what they saw all year,” Gadowsky said, “from what you have to do and how much caring it takes and you can see the love that those guys have for the university and that’s something I hope never ever leaves.”
Gadowsky went on the credit the words of Penn State’s captain DeNaples about players needing to be with the team for the right reasons and what an awesome culture has been created with those players.
No matter what way it’s put, the Allentown Regional FInal was heartbreaking for the Nittany Lions. The Frozen Four was in Penn State’s grasp with a lead in the final ten minutes of regulation and an opportunity to shock the college hockey world in overtime.
Ultimately that opportunity slipped from the Nittany Lions’ fingertips, but that should not take away from one of the most successful seasons in program history.
Penn State is close. A few bounces and a handful of minutes go the Nittany Lions way and they would have been off to Tampa Bay for the Frozen Four.
While the blue and white instead have the season end, the Nittany Lions continue to rise as a program in college hockey matching their deepest tournament run and going toe-to-toe with the best teams in the country.
This may not have been the year, but Penn State has a lot to be optimistic about in its quest to make its first-ever Frozen Four bid next season.
Maclain Young is a third-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.