It is easy to forget that Penn State has only had a Division 1 hockey program for six seasons. Following a loss in the NCAA Tournament to the returning national champion Denver Pioneers, there is a natural tendency to feel disappointed for the team. Don’t let that feeling linger for too long because the future is bright for Guy Gadowsky’s squad.
This marks the end of a second-consecutive year which the Lions made the sixteen-team field for the national tournament. There was a great deal of adversity for the players this season but in the end they played well enough for a shot at the ultimate prize; a run through the tournament and a chance to be named the national champion. Those aspirations will have to wait until the future but with a team returning its core, anchored by the strongest sophomore class in college hockey, the wait may not be very long.
In a fast-moving opening period Denver took an early 2-0 lead. The Pioneers added a goal early in the second period and with two seconds to play before the final period, scored to take away almost all hopes of a Penn State comeback. Penn State cut into the lead with a goal by Liam Folkes in the final period, but Denver answered to regain a four-goal spread.
Every season that doesn’t end with the team holding a trophy over its head will end with a loss. It is a bitter taste but for teams that were successful in making the NCAA Tournament, it is one that will fade quickly.
How It Happened
The teams came ready to play and the end to end action began from the first drop of the puck. Denver jumped out to a quick 5-2 shot on goal advantage but the Lions’ two shots were quality scoring chances. Through eight minutes of play there were very few whistles as the players were able to play fast without making mistakes.
With just under eight minutes to play in the period Denver was the first to score. Peyton Jones was unable to react fast enough to a puck off the boards behind him. Kohen Olischefski put the rebound in for the 1-0 Pioneer lead.
Moments later Liam Folkes had a chance to score and Denver committed a penalty on the play. The Lions were unable to take advantage of the extra skater but the power-play gave the team time to settle down after giving up the first goal.
With four minutes left to go in the first period Denver had a long delayed-penalty situation with the goalie pulled. Peyton Jones turned back a couple of scoring chances but finally the puck went into the net. After a lengthy review to check on a potential goalie interference, the goal stood. Troy Terry got the goal for the 2-0 spread.
In NCAA hockey, if the team scores during the delayed penalty, it will still be awarded a two-minute advantage, so Denver went on the 5 on 4 power-play to add to the adversity for Penn State. To the relief of the crowd that mostly favored the home-state Lions, the penalty came and went without a goal scored.
In the final seconds of the period Denver had a couple of scoring chances but with 5.4 on the clock, Peyton Jones held on to a shot, drawing a face-off and stopping the onslaught without giving up what could have been a heart-breaking late goal.
Just twelve seconds into the second period play was stopped to review a high hit by Denver but the call was deemed a two-minute penalty. Penn State was unable to score with the extra skater.
Four minutes into the period Evan Barratt hit the post with a shot that could have cut the lead in half. Less than a minute later Denver made it hurt, getting the third goal of the game when Henrick Borgstrom scored for the 23rd time this season.
Midway through the second period Penn State had only mustered two shots on goal for the frame. The fans inside the PPL Center in Allentown began to sense that the game was slipping away. Penn State responded with some of its best offensive pressure of the night. Nate Sucese and Brandon Biro each nearly got the Lions on the board with high-quality scoring chances.
Trevor Hamilton put an exclamation point on the action when he completed a hard and legal hit. The Lions were back in the game, playing even with Denver, but were down thee goals with four minutes left before the second intermission. Until the final seconds of the period it appeared that Penn State was poised to cut into the lead. Instead, with twelve seconds to play, Denver went on another power-play. With just two seconds to go, the Pioneers scored a critical fourth goal.
It took the Lions more than six minutes to get its first shot on goal in the final period. The wind was out of the sail of the fans and team.
Each side was called for an infraction so the teams skated four on four. During the penalty, Liam Folkes got the Lions on the board with a nice finish on a turnover.
The score breathed life inside of the PPL Center and with ten minutes to play, it had the feeling that an unlikely comeback was possible. With 7:38 to play, Jarid Lukosevicius put an end to those feelings, and Denver took a 5-1 lead that silenced the crowd.
The Lions had a power-play in the final five minutes but were unable to make it count. The teams skated with resignation that the outcome was decided for the final few minutes.