State College has become a focal point of college hockey ever since Terry Pegula made his $102 million donation to Penn State to kick start Division I ice hockey programs.
That donation has created many milestones in the six years that have followed, highlighted last season by the first National Hockey League game played at Pegula Ice Arena between the Buffalo Sabres and Minnesota Wild.
A year following that game, the second such spectacle outdid its predecessor, and was highlighted itself by a former college hockey star.
Jack Eichel showed off the skill that made him the second overall pick in 2015, notching three points in Tuesday’s matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, including a mesmerizing overtime winner.
The former Boston University standout put on a clinic against a prospect-heavy Penguins squad. Seemingly every time the 2015 Hobey Baker Award winner touched the puck, his Sabres hemmed the Penguins in their defensive zone. His work helped linemate Jason Pominville net a pair of goals.
Pominville, a longtime Sabre in his first action with the team after six years with the Minnesota Wild, scored his first of the game after an other-worldly pass by Eichel.
Just 49 seconds into the second period, one of last season’s Hobey Baker finalists responded for the Penguins. After the Sabres had some trouble controlling a bouncing puck, it landed on the stick of Zach Aston-Reese in the slot.
Zach Aston-Reese finds the back of the net 46 seconds into the second period for Pittsburgh to tie the game up at 1. pic.twitter.com/Y31BIh9myH— Patrick Burns (@PatrickBurnsPSU) September 20, 2017
Midway through the period, the “Population of Pominville” grew once again, as the 14-year veteran tapped in the puck near the left post.
The Penguins responded again early in the third period. With the Sabres down a man, Jay McClement redirected a point shot by Chad Ruhwedel past former Minnesota Golden Gopher Adam Wilcox, who took over for Chad Johnson to start the third period.
Later in the period, with the Penguins once again on the power play, Olli Maatta capitalized on a broken play, burying a one timer past Wilcox.
The Penguins lead held until the final four minutes of play. On a fast break for the Sabres, Matt Tennyson sprung in from the point, firing a wrist shot that found its way through Casey DeSmith, knotting the game at three with just 3:45 in regulation.
That set the stage for Eichel’s heroics, and sent the small contingent of Sabres fans among a sea of Penguins supporters home happy.