Penn State hockey (7-2-3) took advantage of the Alaska trip this season, returning with a win and a tie vs the hometown Seawolves of Alaska-Anchorage. The team has now strung together two wins and two ties on the road thus far, the longest unbeaten road streak in program history.
Guy Gadowsky's squad shrugged off the challenge of playing on an Olympic-sized sheet of ice as well as the extensive travel.
The four-thousand mile trip for a pair of games with Alaska-Anchorage is the longest road trip possible for the Lions and it's nice that the team returned without suffering a loss. The team returned on a flight that left Alaska at 4 a.m. eastern time after playing a game that ended just before 2 a.m.
This week PSU has a couple of extra days to recover from the travel, facing Vermont on Sunday in Philadelphia in the lone game over the next twelve days. Here's a recap of both games from the Last Frontier.
Friday Night: PSU Wins 5-2
Penn State got off to a quick start in the first game of the series. Skating on the large ice surface inside of Sullivan Arena in Anchorage didn't faze the high-octane offense employed by the Lions. With twelve shots on goal in the first period, the team was only slightly below its nation-leading shots on goal per game average.
Eight minutes in freshman Andrew Sturtz broke the ice in the scoring column with a nifty wrist shot that beat Alaska-Anchorage goalie Olivier Mantha. Fellow freshmen Kevin Kerr and Chase Berger assisted on the play.
Just a minute and a half later Sturtz scored again, this time unassisted, on a short-handed goal. The strike was the sixth goal in eleven games for the young sniper. It appeared that PSU was on a roll, heading to an easy victory, but that sentiment lasted only for a few minutes.
In a span of just 29 seconds the Lions saw the lead evaporate when Dylan Hubbs and Nicolas Erb-Ekholm each scored for the Seawolves to tie it up at two apiece.
Losing the lead in such swift fashion put the Lions on the defensive for the remainder of the first period. The shot total dwindled and the team appeared apprehensive, fearing a low-percentage shot may start a break the other way for Anchorage. The period ended with the teams tied at two and PSU leading the shot tally 12-9.
The second period showed the resolve on the Penn State team. It continued to play a more cautious style on offense, taking fewer shots than it would normally take in an attempt to keep the Seawolves from gaining quick odd-man rushes off the miss. The Lions would only take ten shots on goal in the period, but two would sneak past Mantha.
The game-winning goal was scored just under four minutes into the second period when Ricky DeRosa put a pass from Tommy Olczyk in the back of the net for a 3-2 lead. Coach Gadowsky had this to say about the play after the game.
Heck of a play, really started by moving the puck really quickly. And a cute, cute, great vision play by Tommy Olczyk to send Ricky in and he made no mistake. That was a big one, we were on our heels a little bit and then when Ricky one we were able to right the ship.
The teams skated evenly after the goal for ten minutes. The Lion's tempo had increased to where it was to start the game and Anchorage was intent to tie the game as well, testing goalie Eamon McAdam several times. With seven minutes left in the second period Curtis Loik scored on a great individual effort to stretch the PSU lead to two goals, 4-2. Loik skated down the ice on a 2 on 1 play with teammate Luke Juha, faked a pass to Juha but then unleashed a nasty shot that beat Mantha before he could even flinch.
The goal allowed PSU to skate freely for the remainder of the game. With three minutes left in the game and the Seawolves entertaining the idea of pulling the goalie in an attempt to gain an extra skater for a late comeback attempt, Kenny Brooks scored to take the lead to 5-2. The goal ended any hopes of a comeback for the host team.
Penn State finished with 31 shots on goal, the fewest the team took all season but it held Anchorage to 21. The Olympic size ice sheet, which measures 200 ft x 100 ft, was a challenge for the rapid-shooting Lions, but not one that it could not adjust to. Typically the team plays on NHL-sized ice such as the sheet that is inside Pegula Ice Arena, which measures 200 ft x 85 ft. The larger ice makes it difficult to dump the puck into the offensive zone and to chase after it, allowing the team to set up the offense for shot opportunities. Instead the team crashed the net after each shot hoping for a rebound. The ability to adjust and play a solid game is a tribute to the team and coaching staff.
Saturday Night: Lions Skate To A 1-1 Overtime Tie
The second game of the series got off to a shaky start for Penn State. After Eamon McAdam got the start in goal and win on Friday, Matt Skoff took over on Saturday. On the first shot Skoff faced, just 2:23 into the first period, Mason Mitchell put the puck in the back of the net. Mitchell snapped off a shot that beat Skoff over his right shoulder before he could react.
The quick deficit made it difficult for the Lions to attack on offense, as the Seawolves seemed content to protect the lead for as long as possible. The teams skated freely for the rest of the first period with few stoppages and PSU went to the locker room down a goal at the first intermission. The teams were tied with 8 shots on goal in the frame, the fewest single-period total for the Lions this season.
The second period was a continuation of the first. Anchorage held PSU to a new season-low shots on goal of 7 in the period. Penalties on Penn State's Kenny Brooks and David Thompson aided the Seawolves as it attempted to take the air out of the puck, allowing few open looks at the net.
The second period ended with the one-goal lead intact for the home team, and the road-weary Lions sent back to the drawing board.
The third period began at 12:50 eastern time, which posed an additional challenge for Guy Gadowsky's squad. Having tallied only 15 shots on goal through two periods, it was clear that there had been a strategy change at the start of the final period.
Penn State threw caution to the wind, peppering Anchorage goalie Olivier Mantha with 19 shots in the period. The faster pace allowed the Lions to play a more familiar style and it paid off six minutes in. Luke Juha took a pass from David Goodwin and fired it past Mantha for the tying goal. David Glen assisted on the play as well.
For the remainder of the period the Lions had the upper-hand but were unable to convert the effort into a goal. The teams went to a five-minute overtime period. In overtime both goalies were tested. Mantha was forced to make three saves and Skoff turned away four shots. The game ended at 1:35 eastern time in a 1-1 tie.
The tie seemed more like a victory for the Lions, who trailed for the better part of the game, four-thousand miles from home, playing in what would be the latest finish time in program history.
Here's the team in the airport during the long commute back to State College on Sunday. Goalie Matt Skoff brags about winning at Risk, but the troops are clearly tired.