Through the first six games of the season, Guy Gadowsky thought his team was trying to play above its skill level. Rather than playing the gritty “Penn State Hockey” that has allowed the team to be so successful so early in its time as a Division-I program, his Nittany Lions would try to do too much, making an extra pass or holding onto the puck too long when a shot was available.
An important Big Ten test seemed to shift the Lions’ mindset back to what Gadowsky had been hoping for this season, epitomized by Blake Gober’s overtime winner in the Lions’ 5-4 win over Michigan Friday night.
Just 53 seconds into extra time, captain James Robinson swooped into the offensive zone and carried the puck around the goal. The redshirt senior swung the puck in front of the goal as Gober battled for positioning with Wolverines’ forward Adam Winborg. The puck ricocheted off the duo and bounced past Wolverines’ goalie Jack LaFontaine, sending the Pegula Ice Arena faithful into a frenzy in what was an instant classic.
“That goal was a lot of what we saw last year,” Gadowsky said after the game. “It was a great ‘Penn State Hockey’ goal and hopefully we’re going to have a lot more of those.”
The Wolverines got off to a quick start, scoring on their first two shots of the game. Will Lockwood opened the scoring after beating a slew of Nittany Lions and wiring a quick backhand shot through the legs of Peyton Jones. A few minutes later, Dexter Dancs capitalized on a two-on-one opportunity, firing a wrist shot bar down.
A heavy hit by Trevor Hamilton swayed the momentum in the Lions’ favor, as they peppered Wolverines’ goalie Jack LaFontaine through the remainder of the first period, closing out the first frame with 18 shots to Michigan’s eight.
With four minutes to play in the opening period, Andrew Sturtz cut the Wolverines’ lead in half. Fresh out of the penalty box, Sturtz carried the puck across the Michigan blue line and fired a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circles. The wrister handcuffed LaFontaine, popping in the air and dropping into the net behind the sophomore goalie.
The Lions kept up the attack through the remainder of the first and into the second period. Midway through the middle frame, Denis Smirnov knotted the game at two, firing a laser past the glove of LaFontaine.
Just a few minutes later, the Wolverines capitalized on an ill-advised interference call against Nikita Pavlychev. After some strong pressure on the man advantage, Dancs netted his second goal of the night, redirecting a shot through Jones.
Early in the third period, Alex Limoges tied the game back up with his first goal as a Nittany Lion, cashing in on the rebound of a shot by Liam Folkes.
Not even a minute and a half later, however, the Wolverines were back in front. After the Lions turned over the puck in their defensive zone, Tony Calderone set up Cooper Marody in the slot. The junior forward fired a shot to the top corner of the net.
The Wolverines staved off the Nittany Lions for much of the third period, thanks in large part to some acrobatic saves from LaFontaine, who faced 19 shots in the final 20 minutes of regulation. Eventually, though, the Lions broke through, in another classic “Penn State Hockey” manner.
After defenseman Erik Autio applied pressure to keep the puck in the attacking zone, Sturtz found himself alone in front of LaFontaine. While Sturtz lost possession of the puck before he could shoot, the puck squirted out to Chase Berger, who lifted the rebound past LaFontaine’s glove with just a minute and a half to play.