There were many historic firsts for the Penn State hockey team last season: there was the first game played in Pegula Ice Arena against Army. It was also the first year of Big Ten hockey for Penn State. Penn State recorded the first Big Ten victory in school history with a win at home against Michigan, 4-0, on February 8th. Thirteen days later, Penn State recorded the first Big Ten road victory in school history, defeating Michigan 5-4 in an overtime thriller in Ann Arbor. The team also recorded their first signature win on the next-to-last day of the season, defeating Michigan 2-1 in double-overtime for the Lion's first ever Big Ten tournament victory.
Tournament Victory over Michigan
The scoring started with :28 seconds remaining in the second period when Luke Juha took the puck away from Michigan and got it out to Taylor Holstrom. Holstrom took it from there, finishing on the short side:
The game went to two overtimes, but forward Eric Scheid's amazing defensive play in the first overtime kept hopes alive for PSU. Skating behind the goalie, Scheid kicked the spinning puck out of the net and ensured a continuation of overtime play. Had Scheid been a moment later getting to the puck, Michigan would have won the game and likely would have made the NCAA tournament.
Instead, the game continued on to a second overtime. Freshman Dylan Richard kicked the puck back to fellow freshman Zach Zaar affter a face-off. Zaar, the monster power forward, used all of his 6'5" reach to control the puck and launch a laser-beam into the back of the net.
Taking a closer look at the face-off, initially Richard was tied up with one Michigan player as two other Wolverines reached in to control the puck. Not giving up on the play, Richard kicked the puck back to Zaar with his left skate.
In a year with so many new experiences for Penn State hockey, it was nice to have the Wolverines on-hand to share them as often as they were.
Last season Penn State won eight of their thirty-six hockey games and three of those wins were against perennial hockey powerhouse Michigan. Michigan failed to make the NCAA hockey tournament for the second year in a row, likely missing the final spot by one win. Previously they had made the tourney for a record twenty-two straight seasons from 1991-2012. The losses to Penn State sent the Michigan faithful into a panicked tailspin of speculation and finger pointing. Traffic in Ann Arbor came to a stand-still following the season-ending Big Ten tournament overtime loss to PSU, as Wolverine tears flooded the streets and then froze, making it hazardous to drive.
STRONGER DEFENSIVE PLAY
This season Penn State will feature the same players that we saw last year, as the team didn't lose any regular contributors on the ice. Luckily our team should be much stronger and deeper at the defensive position considering the rash of injuries that they had to work through at that position last year. Penn State added three new faces, two forwards and a defender. For a team that found themselves using forwards to fill spots on defense at times last season due to injuries, the addition of young defender Eric 'Sound Check' Autio from Finland comes at the perfect time.
The Penn State hockey team struggled in many games last year due to their inability to put the puck in the net, so it makes sense that we would bring in someone who is Finnish. Listed at 5'10 and 176 pounds, Autio isn't a big bruiser like so many other players are on the PSU squad. He is a very skilled player who will be asked to set the table for the forwards, enabling them to find more scoring chances than last year. He's an offensively skilled defender who is also a very sound checker. He skates like a butterfly and stings like Avicii.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE UPCOMING SEASON
There are a few things that you can count on this year. PSU will be bigger and more physical than the teams that they play and will shoot the puck more often than most teams they face. The fast tempo of play and consistent hitting will make every game fun to watch regardless of the outcome. Our student section at home games will continue to be the most amazing spectacle of fan support in all of college hockey. The atmosphere at Pegula Ice Arena will be enjoyable for hockey fans or anyone who enjoys an exuberant group of happy people.