They had done everything they needed - earn the #1 seed in the tournament, overcome a hungry Oklahoma team, and be healthy and ready for an upset-minded #13 Oakland squad. The Icers were primed and ready to go. And just like that, it was over. The end of one era in Penn State hockey. But before they become the Nittany Lions, they skated as Icers one last time.
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PSU Goals: Longo, Friedman, Jensen
With Madrazo in net and top-scorer Justin Kirchhevel scratched for the game, the Icers were looking to avoid giving up the first goal of the game - something they had allowed 8 of their previous 11 games. However, a broken play behind the Icers' net allowed Oakland's Jordan MacDonald to start what would be a very productive night for the Grizzly. Midway through the period, the Icers would tie it up, as the white-hot combination of Mike Longo and Bryce Johnson worked their magic for Longo's 4th goal of the tournament. A few minutes later, OU's MacDonald would give the Grizzlies the lead again, only to watch Jake Friedman tie the game again with a tricky shot through traffic.
Oakland would retake the lead early in the 2nd period, thanks to an Icers' defensive turnover. That would remain the score heading into the 3rd period, where another defensive turnover allowed Jordan MacDonald to get his hat-trick goal, and extending the Grizzlies lead to 4-2. The Icers were not going to go quietly, however, and a minute later, Nate Jensen would rip a shot from the high slot past the OU goalie, making it a one-goal game again. The Icers would continue to press, but one last steal at the blue line let Jordan MacDonald get in on a breakaway and put away the Icers, lifting OU to a 5-3 victory. MacDonald's four goals were very reminiscent (nightmarish, for me) of Will McMahon's 4-goal output against the Icers in the 2007 championship game.
Season Record and ACHA Ranking: 29-4-1 (27-3-1 ACHA), ranked #3 in the ACHA
News, Notes, Observations: A disappointing end to a great season for the Icers. Unfortunately, some of those keys to victory (or losing) I had pointed out in the previews were in full force in the semis. Turnovers were killer - four of Oakland's five goals came off of turnovers. The other came off of a face-off, which ended up being another weak spot for the Icers this tournament. Oakland also employed a very defensive system, which saw all five players collapse deep and around the net, and countless occasions of multiple players going down to block shots. All credit is due to Oakland - they had a game plan, they executed it perfectly, and they had the skill players to pull off the upset.
It was still a very solid season for the Icers - one which was undoubtedly hectic behind the scenes. This was a team that was half new players, half returning players; players with their sights on bigger-than-club aspirations, and players trying to enjoy one last run; and everyone having to constantly shift their focus between playing for the now and preparing for the future. I have no doubt that every player and coach wanted to finish this season as champions, but they have a lot to be proud of, and more to be excited for.
To wrap up the tournament, the #3 Delaware Blue Hens would control much of the other semifinal game against #2 Lindenwood, finally pulling away late to a 6-3 win. In the championship game, it was all Blue Hens. Delaware jumped out to a 1-0 lead just 63 seconds into the game and never looked back. UD would make it 2-0 later in the first period, and it seemed like Oakland's energy and emotion finally hit zero. The Blue Hens would roll to a 5-1 victory, bringing home their first ever (and much deserved) Murdoch Cup. Delaware goalie, SJ Broadt, garned the tournament MVP title, which is made even more impressive when you consider he played on the broken foot that was supposed to keep him out of the tournament. Many congratulations to the Blue Hens on a very successful season.
As a final note from the tournament, although Bryce Johnson and Mike Longo were the scoring machines, Dominic Morrone had one heck of a two-way performance in the three games. As such, Dom was named to the 2nd Team All-Tournament team. Many congrats to him for that honor!
The next game will be... well... mark your calendars for October 12th and 13th for right now - that's the first home weekend series for the Nittany Lions, when they face off against American International College. There may be other games that end up preceding that weekend, but for now, let's plan for early October.