Opening night number two in Pegula Ice Arena could’ve been worse for the 6,107 in attendance.
After appearing to be the stronger team for much of the game, the Nittany Lions saw themselves trailing to UConn 2-1 with less than a minute to play.
A pulled goalie, a scrum in front of the net, and an aware, smooth play by forward David Goodwin, and Penn State was right back as the sophomore winger pushed a rebound past UConn goaltender Rob Nichols for what would be the game’s final goal, as the Nittany Lions tied the Huskies, 2-2.
When the game’s sudden-death overtime period came and went without either side getting one to the back of the net, the game went to a completely meaningless shootout that the Lions dropped 2-1.
Despite not counting, dropping the shootout left a bad taste in coach Guy Gadowsky’s mouth. "It does not feel as good as a tie should," the coach said after the game.
Gadowsky was happy to see the program’s first ever shootout goal, however, as Casey Bailey scored on the first attempt. The Lions were 0-9 in shootout attempts last season.
After beating Army 4-1 a season ago in Terry Pegula’s sanctuary’s grand opening, the expectations were high for another exciting season-opener in year two.
After a scoreless first period that saw the Lions outshoot the Huskies 13-5, they came out flat in period two.
"I thought we played really well in the first, but didn’t have the same jump in the second," Gadowsky said.
That same second period saw Penn State lose the shots battle by a margin of 11-6, the only period of the three and overtime that it was outshot.
UConn forward Patrick Kirtland got the first goal in Pegula this season, as the forward zipped the puck past goalie Matthew Skoff’s lower left hand side at the 10:30 mark of the second period.
The program also saw its’ first ever penalty shot goal, as forward Tommy Olczyk, who had the program’s only other penalty shot attempt ever last season against Boston College, got a chance at redemption at 14:27 of the second period.
Olczyk, who said he was much less nervous than his previous attempt, skated up the ice towards Nichols, before slowly deking to his right, and putting it right between the UConn goalie’s legs for the Lions’ first goal of the season.
"My dad [NHL Legend and NBC Broadcaster Eddie] is probably going to say ‘you came in too slow’," the senior said after the game.
Olczyk also talked about how it was nice for him, a player who is self-admittedly not known for his scoring, to get the "monkey off his back" in the first game, and not have to worry about scoring one afterwards.
The score could’ve been worse, as a rare error by newly-minted captain and defenseman Patrick Koudys saw a defensive zone turnover, which led to a breakaway chance for UConn forward Brent Norris.
Skoff, acting fast on his feet, made his save of the night, as he dove forward on the puck, stoning the forward in his tracks and preventing a go-ahead goal for the Huskies.
The only other shot that got past Skoff all night was a deflection by Trevor Gerling after a slap shot from the point by Johnny Austin at 15:14 in the third that temporarily put UConn ahead 2-1.
One thing that Gadowsky was pleased with at the end of the game was the team’s marked improvement in terms of taking penalties. A season ago, the team was riddled with problems, including 12 penalties against them in the opener against Army.
On Friday night, the Lions saw only one—on a questionable call, at that, as forward Curtis Loik was docked an unsportsmanlike conduct ban for accidentally spraying Nichols with ice as he pulled up short on his skates.
"I thought the guys played hard, within the rules, very well," Gadowsky said, before also citing their experience as a cohesive unit and playing within the Big Ten as other reasons for the improvement.
Finally, Gadowsky has more reason to be excited about his freshmen, as two of them—defenseman Erik Autio and forward Scott Conway—saw extended ice time.
Conway in particular showed a lot of promise, as he made plays all over the ice, and was generally active and involved in play whenever he was on the ice.
Playing on a line with last year’s leading scorer, Eric Scheid, and the huge body of Jonathan Milley, Conway should see plenty of opportunities to continue making plays.
"He will pretty much do anything to try to score a goal," Gadowsky said.
The Lions will have a quick turnaround, as they face off with UConn once again on Saturday at 3:00 P.M., a few hours before James Franklin and the football team get ready to kick off in Ann Arbor.