Calling Penn State’s weekend series against AIC a disappointment might be an understatement. After narrowly escaping Thursday’s contest with a 7-5 win, the Lions fell 3-2 in overtime to the Yellow Jackets on Friday night.
For a team fresh off its most successful season in Division-I history and with aspirations of a Frozen Four appearance, a weekend split against a team that hasn’t seen a 10-win season since 2003 leaves a sour taste behind.
A loss like this could be written off on the idea that any team can have a strong night and pull off the upset, but with a string of subpar performances early in the season, head coach Guy Gadowsky can’t help but be concerned. He may have an explanation for his team’s early struggles, however.
“We scored the most goals in the NCAA last year, but we didn’t have an air that we were a skill team. We had an air that we were a hard working team,” he said in his post game press conference. “It’s a man’s game in front of the net, and you got to want to get there. We scored a lot of goals from the paint last year, and we’re not getting that done this year.”
Gadowsky has long prided his team on being hard working, abandoning flashy plays for grit and determination. He feels the team has been straying away from that identity early this season.
“We’re not playing the Penn State hockey that made us successful last year,” he said. “We’re playing a different game that I’m not sure anybody’s good enough to play that game.”
How It Happened
Cole Hults opened the scoring for the Nittany Lions midway through the first period. With the Lions on the man advantage, Denis Smirnov sent a cross ice pass to Hults, who hammered in his second goal of the season and second as a Nittany Lion.
The Yellow Jackets knotted the game at one with roughly six minutes to play in the second period. After a scramble in front of Chris Funkey, the puck popped loose to defenseman Brennan Kapcheck, who lifted a shot over the outstretched right leg of Funkey.
A scary moment came for Penn State early in the third period. With the Yellow Jackets pressing for the go-ahead goal, an errant stick from Dominik Florian caught Denis Smirnov just below his helmet cage. Smirnov went down in a heap, and had to be tended to on the Lions’ bench.
Just a few shifts later, Smirnov was back on the ice, helping to set up the Lions’ second goal of the game. After a pair of saves by Skog, the puck caromed to the side boards, where Nate Sucese turned and fired a shot on net which ricocheted off Skog and into the net.
Just four minutes later, the Yellow Jackets tied the game back up at two. In a nearly identical manner that Sucese gave the Lions the lead, Florian pounced on a rebound and fired a quick shot past an unsuspecting Funkey.
A few minutes later, the Lions were bit by the injury bug once again. After Liam Folkes nearly put the Lions in front with a carbon copy of his Big Ten Championship winning goal, defenseman Trevor Hamilton battled for the puck with a Yellow Jacket forward. The two lost balance, causing Hamilton to crash heavily into the boards. The senior defenseman went to the locker room putting no weight on his right leg.
The teams traded chances through the remainder of regulation and into the five-minute overtime period. As the extra time was winding down, the Yellow Jackets made the most of a costly blunder by the Lions. As Kris Myllari attempted to handle the puck near his own blue line, he blew a tire, allowing Darius Davidson to walk in unguarded on a breakaway.
The freshman forward made a quick move before firing a shot through the legs of Funkey, giving the Yellow Jackets their first win of the season.