Over the years, the Penn State Icers have played a great number of teams, ranging from NCAA DI and DIII teams, all the way down to ACHA D2 teams. Rivalries have come and gone, and the new wave in the ACHA has tested their worth against the Blue and White. And while the Ohio Bobcats have always been "the rival" for Penn State, the Delaware Blue Hens have remained as mainstays on the Icers' schedule. This past weekend, the history of the Blue Hens hit a new level, as the two teams played games 100 and 101 against each other. If the history between these teams wasn't enough, the two teams entered the weekend home-and-home set ranked as #1 and #2 in the ACHA. Rust Arena at the University of Delaware set the stage for the Friday night game before the two teams traveled to State College for the Saturday night tilt.
|#1 PENN STATE
|PSU Goals: Meiselman, Longo, O'Brien|
The Icers would be without some of their best players for the Friday game at Delaware. Justin Kirchhevel and Brian Dolan were serving one-game suspensions for their actions against West Chester last Friday, and Taylor Holstrom would miss the weekend due to an injury suffered in that same game. As for those starting, senior defenseman (and personal favorite) Dan Petrick gets his first start of the season after suffering an injury during practice in September, and Matt Madrazo would get another Friday night start in net.
Both teams would get a few scoring chances early, but it would be the Blue Hens who would strike first early in the 1st period. Icers would respond a few minutes later, as Dan Meiselman would put home a Rich O'Brien shot rebound on the power play. An Icer turnover would lead to a Blue Hen odd-man rush, and Delaware would take advantage and take the 2-1 lead. Seconds later, the Icers would respond again, this time it was Mike Longo putting home a rebound from a Dan Loucks shot, making it a 2-2 game after one period of play.
After a rather quiet second period, a slip in the defensive zone lead to a Delaware goal 22 seconds into the 3rd period. Tim Acker came close to tying the game up, but the officials ruled the net was off its moorings prior to the goal, and the Blue Hens retained their 3-2 lead. Another bad turnover in the defensive zone led to another Blue Hen goal, extending their lead to 4-2. After pulling Madrazo for the extra attacker, Rich O'Brien would get one goal back with 0:40 left in the game. The Icers would get a couple more chances late, including a goal that would go in just a split-second after time would expire. A little bit of bad luck for the Icers and some poor play in the defensive zone would be enough for the Blue Hens to win 4-3 and hand the Icers their first loss of the season.
|#1 PENN STATE
|PSU Goals: Acker (2), Johnson, Saad, McDonaugh
Looking to rebound, the Icers would come out firing in the first period. Having Justin Kirchhevel back in the lineup was made apparent, as he nearly scored in the first period, but the Blue Hens would keep it a scoreless tie heading into the first intermission. These two teams would not remain off the scoreboard, though. Early in the second period, Brandon Russo would make a sliding stop in the defensive zone, make a quick outlet pass to Dominic Morrone, who would send Bryce Johnson in to beat the Blue Hen goalie and give the Icers a 1-0 lead. Later in the period, the line of Eric Steinour, George Saad, and Kurt Collins would provide some solid offensive pressure that would lead to a goal for Saad and extend the lead to 2-0. Delaware would would cut the lead in half when the Icers would lack some focus in the defensive zone and allow the Blue Hens to put an easy goal past PJ Musico.
The Icers would take the 2-1 lead into the 3rd period, and the play would go from end to end for much the period. The Icers would finally begin to assert themselves and made it a 3-1 lead when Tim Acker put home a loose puck after some strong play in the offensive zone. A few minutes later, the Icers would take advantage of the power play and a Blue Hen mental mistake, as Mike McDonaugh would extend the lead to 4-1. Late in the period, Acker would get his second of the night (and as an Icer) on a 3-on-2 breakout for the Icers. That would be the final word for this game, as the Icers would split the weekend with a 5-1 win.
Season Record and ACHA Ranking: 11-1-0, ranked #1 in the ACHA
News, Notes, Observations: Losing those top scoring players undoubtedly hurt the Icers during the Friday night game. The losses of those players forced some more line shifting, and the changing up of those lines was seen at times during the Friday night game. Saturday was much better, and it showed in every aspect of the game.
The biggest problem for the Icers this weekend was a lack to do enough. They gave the Blue Hens numerous scoring opportunities because the forwards wouldn't move the puck deep into the offensive zone, or the defense wouldn't make the smart pass to get the puck out of the zone. Hopefully this weekend acts as a wakeup call to the team that they won't be able to blow past teams just because they show up.
As a general team comment, the defense is the biggest issue right now. And it's not because a lack of talent, but rather a lack of consistency. Jensen, Edgeworth, Loucks, O'Brien, and Dolan have all had solid games, but they happen alongside games where things don't go their way. Brandon Russo has added a spark, especially on the offensive side, while Dan Petrick is still coming up to game speed. If the defense can gain some consistency, this is a talented group of seven players who can make life even easier for our talented stable of goalies.
The Icers did split the weekend against a very deep and talented Delaware team, so there are some positives I need to note. The team went 2-for-5 on the power play over the two games, and that 40% conversion rate is a great rate (if unsustainable). On the other side, they were 7-for-7 on the penalty kill. This means two things - first, the Icers kept the penalties to a minimum after a couple of chippy weekends; second, even with all the mental lapses, the penalty killers kept the talented Blue Hens off the board when they did have the man-advantage. Goaltending continues to play well, and it does look like Musico is beginning to make the jump from goalie (1b) behind Madrazo up to (1a). Either way, both continue to play very well, and having two solid goalies (with a solid 3rd in Tim Carr) is not a bad problem to have.
After a hard-fought weekend set (and what might have been a preview of the ACHA championship game), the Icers have the Thanksgiving weekend off before welcoming Rutgers to the Greenberg Ice Pavilion. The Icers then round out the 2011 calendar year with a road trip to Virginia to face off against the Liberty Flames.