With a sluggish start to the season, Penn State has been looking to its veteran leaders to provide the team with a spark to get back on the right track. During Saturday’s 7-5 win over Mercyhurst, a few of those veterans came to the forefront in a big way.
Captain James Robinson picked up a hat trick while Andrew Sturtz set a number of program records as the Nittany Lions avoided being swept by the Lakers and moved back to .500 on the season.
Aside from netting his first career hat trick, Robinson was quick to win battles to loose pucks and disrupt the Lakers’ breakouts, among the other little things that give Penn State its identity as a team. Head coach Guy Gadowsky was pleased to see that hard work come from his captain.
“I’m thrilled with that,” Gadowsky said following the game. “That’s exactly what the doctor ordered. If we could order up one thing, that would be it.”
Looking to bounce back after Friday’s 7-4 loss to the Lakers, Gadowsky mixed up his lineup, moving Robinson away from his usual partners Nikita Pavlychev and Blake Gober and putting him on the top line with Chase Berger and Sturtz. The move payed dividends, as the top line accounted for five goals and five assists.
While Gadowsky would have liked to take credit for the decision, he was quick to give credit to another, though he wouldn’t give a name to the genius.
“I’d love to tell you it came from great minds of the coaching staff, but it didn’t,” Gadowsky said. “It came from a player... He talked to me about it, and he was right.”
Robinson opened the scoring for the Lions just two and a half minutes into the contest. Andrew Sturtz carried the puck down the ice before tossing a pass to the middle of the ice and right onto Robinson’s stick. Robinson sent a quick backhand shot past a diving Brandon Wildung.
The Lakers responded midway through a high-powered first period. After some exceptional passing, Jack Riley buried a shot past Peyton Jones to kknot the game at one. Not even a minute and a half later, the Lakers took their first, and ultimately only, lead of the night as Taylor Best knocked home the rebound of Quinn Wichers’ shot.
A few minutes later, Robinson picked up his second of the night to tie the game at two. Robinson gathered the puck near the side boards and sent a floater on net that elluded Wildung.
Robinson completed his hat trick just 29 seconds into the second period. After sustained pressure in the attacking zone, Robinson redirected a pass from Cole Hults past Wildung. Robinson joined a select group of Nittany Lions to have netted a hat trick. Only David Glen, Tommy Olczyk, Casey Bailey and Denis Smirnov had picked up three goals in a game for Penn State.
Minutes later, Chase Berger doubled the Lions lead, finishing off a 2-on-1 with Andrew Sturtz after a beautiful set up by the latter.
The Lions held onto the two-goal lead for much of the second period. With just under two minutes to play in the middle frame, however, the Lakers finally responded as Joshua Lammon picked up his second goal of the weekend on the power play.
Less than a minute later, though, the Lions regained their two-goal advantage. A nifty passing play was finished off by an even flashier goal, as Liam Folkes outwaited Wildung and lifted a backhand shot into the top corner of the net.
The Lakers pulled back to within a goal early in the third period, as Zach Todd beat Jones with a wrist shot over the glove. Six minutes later, Kane Elliot brought the game back even at five, jamming a rebound past Jones after a scramble in front of the sophomore goalie.
Just three minutes later, the Lions jumped back out in front. After another mad scramble in front of Wildung, the puck bounced out to Trevor Hamilton down low. The senior defenseman found Nikita Pavlychev alone in the slot, and the sophomore forward buried a one timer past Wildung with just 4:17 to play.
As the clock wound down with the Lions clinging to the one-goal lead, Gadowsky’s squad ran into some penalty trouble, gifting the Lakers with a brief 5-on-3 opportunity with a minute to play. The Lions survived the two-man disadvantage, and picked up a historic insurance goal with just 12 seconds to play.
Sturtz’s empty net goal was his sixth of the season and 46th of his Penn State career, moving him ahead of Casey Bailey for the program record in career goals. Sturtz also set single-game records for assists with four and points with five. Sturtz quickly gave credit to each of his linemates over his three seasons with Penn State and explained what made the performance especially meaningful to him.
“I kind of knew that I was on the verge of that goal,” he said, “and my mom was here so I figured it would be a special night to get it. She can’t get to a lot of games, so it meant a lot to me to get it tonight.”