Through the first 36 minutes of Friday’s Big Ten hockey action, it looked like Penn State (9-7-2) and Ohio State (7-9-2) were playing on level ice. Then Ohio State scored four unanswered goals. Then Penn State scored four unanswered goals right back.
The game would then go to a five-minute sudden death overtime period, and unfortunately for the 5,829 fans in attendance, the final goal was off the stick of Buckeyes’ forward Anthony Grecco, making it a crushing 5-4 loss for the Nittany Lions, who fought their way all the way back from what had seemed only minutes earlier to be a certain defeat.
Forward Eric Scheid, who was playing in his first game back after missing six weeks with an injury, knew that the pit that his team dug itself into was what set them back in the end.
"It’s a tough break, but we shot ourselves in the foot early, and we can only blame ourselves," the junior said.
With just 21.9 ticks left in regulation, forward Casey Bailey, who had already scored twice earlier in the contest, made it an even hat trick when he found himself in open ice in the left slot in front of Ohio State goalie Christian Frey. It was the Lions’ fourth goal of the period.
The Alaskan took one of his signature powerful, full extension shots and the puck darted past Frey’s mask, hitting the crossbar before bouncing into the ground. The officials looked the play over, and after a few brief minutes, confirmed that the goal was, indeed, a goal.
The junior would tell you that his performance was almost nullified.
"A hat trick doesn’t mean much when you lose the game," Bailey said.
After Bailey’s game-tying goal allowed the crowd for five minutes of free hockey, the crowd went almost that whole period of time without any controversy. Sure, the Nittany Lions got six shots, and the Buckeyes got two, but the play everyone was talking about was the one that ended the game.
Tanner Fritz, Ohio State’s captain, committed a fairly blatant penalty near center ice that went uncalled. Seconds later, Grecco found open ice to the left of the net, and zipped the puck right past Musico for the goal that sent the masses at Pegula Ice Arena home for the evening.
"It is unfortunate that the game ended on a controversial play, but the ref didn’t lose the game for us, we lost the game in the second period," Gadowsky said, before calling his team’s effort in the second "complacent".
In the scoreless opening chapter of the night, the two teams had combined for 44 shots, but none of those firings made their way to the back of the net. Once the clock struck 16:03 in that same second period, however, the true colors of the night began to shine through.
At that exact point, forward Luke Stork of the Buckeyes was finally able to open the scoring. After a shot from Nick Oddo rebounded off of goalie Matthew Skoff’s body, Stork was able to find an opening and make the junior netminder pay.
Skoff was able to stop a breakaway attempt from forward Matthew Weis later on in the second period, but Ohio State doubled down on its lead at the 19:22 mark of the same period, when Buckeye freshman winger Christian Lampasso was unassisted on the first goal of his collegiate career to give his team a 2-0 lead.
The third period of play began very much in the same way as the second came to a close — with an Ohio State goal.
Less than a minute into the third period, Stork got his second of the game, again assisted by the man centering his line, Oddo. After allowing a third goal, Gadowsky had seen enough, and pulled Skoff for backup P.J. Musico.
It was the second consecutive game that Skoff was pulled, but his coach was not the least bit concerned about him going forward.
"I’m not worried about Matt Skoff," Gadowsky said. "He’s a mentally tough kid and a great athlete. Every great goaltender goes through a couple games like this."
Not long after that, Nick Schilkey made it a 4-0 advantage for the Buckeyes, when he was assisted by Weis and Matt Johnson on a tic-tac-toe play that resulted in the Lions’ players looking down at the ground, and Ohio State’s players celebrating in the corner.
The Lions finally got on the board at 6:57 of the third, when Bailey scored his team-leading 12th goal of the season off a rebound of a shot from defenseman Patrick Koudys.
Bailey scored his second goal in nearly as many minutes, getting his thirteenth of the season off a feed from Taylor Holstrom at 8:06 of the third, pushing the Lions back to a 4-2 deficit.
Goodwin scored the highlight reel goal of the night at 14:07 of the third, when the sophomore forward got the puck on a short feed from Luke Juha right near the point in the Ohio State defensive zone. Goodwin lifted the puck into the air, and the rejuvenated crowd fell silent, as the shot flew through the air, over Frey’s left shoulder, and into the net, as those fans simultaneously erupted in cheers for the third time of the night as the Lions cut the deficit to only a goal.
The game seemed almost similar to a loss that the Lions would’ve suffered a season ago, when they lost 11 games by a one-goal margin and fell into some poor fundamental habits.
"It seems like maybe I spoke too soon about retaining the lessons from last year," the fourth-season coach said. He would go on to compare the team’s "relapse" to that of a person trying to lose a lot of weight, and then going back to eat at McDonalds after a long time away.
Bailey made it clear to all watching that his name, recently announced as a Hobey Baker Award finalist for the best player in college hockey, was one to remember. The junior’s 14 goals on the campaign is tied for tops in Division I.
Gadowsky said he’s not the least bit surprised by his leading scorer’s dominant performance on the ice.
"He increased his strength and conditioning so much this summer, and that took him to a bit of another level," the coach said. "...and I think that’s what you’re seeing."
Notes: The Lions outshot the Buckeyes, 57-35. Forward Zach Saar was still working his way back into shape after missing all pre-Christmas games with an injury.