Penn State’s defensemen won’t ever be accused of playing too defensively. Their existence relies on them joining the attack to give the Nittany Lions as many weapons as possible to score as many goals as the opposition will allow.
While the Nittany Lions defensemen are always active in the attack, none have ever been as active at finishing off those attacks as Cole Hults was in Penn State’s 8-2 win over Sacred Heart on Friday.
Hults became the first defenseman and eighth player in program history to record a hat trick. While coach Guy Gadowsky’s system encourages defensemen to be flashy, Hults plays a more reserved style. He is seldom out of position and understands when to jump into the attack and when to let the forwards to the work.
“You hear about guys who do everything well. He does everything really, really well,” Gadowsky said. “He does so many things at such a high level and it makes him overall such an effective player.”
Hults’ hat trick goal did more than just etch his name in the Penn State record books. Without a fantastic performance from Peyton Jones, the Nittany Lions could have found themselves trailing entering the third period.
Hults’ power play tally early in the third period seemed to settle the Nittany Lions, sparking a five-goal third period in which the Nittany Lions outshot the Pioneers 19-7, playing the brand of hockey to which Penn State fans have become so accustomed.
“It’s not often in an 8-2 game that you think your goaltender saved you, but I really feel that way,” Gadowsky said of Jones’ performance. “We really weren’t ourselves until the third, but Peyton was really mentally tough. He was ready to play. We needed him early. He was good when we weren’t, and it gave us a chance to get our legs and get our game, which I think we did in the third.”
The Nittany Lions were certainly benefited from penalty trouble from the Pioneers, going 4-for-8 with the man advantage. Through the first two periods, it didn’t seem like the power play would end up being one of the bright spots for the Nittany Lions; they went just 2-for-5 with four shots.
In the third period, however, they cashed in twice on three chances.
“I think our power play had a great night. I do think we were better as it went on. We just seemed to move pucks quicker and play at a higher tempo,” Gadowsky said. “Maybe it’s just a matter of it being the first game, but to me, that’s the difference.
How It Happened
It didn’t take long for the Nittany Lions to continue their scoring ways. On the first power play of the night, Alex Limoges deflected a slap shot from Evan Barratt past Pioneers’ goalie Josh Benson.
A few minutes later, Cole Hults doubled the Nittany Lions’ lead. As Nate Sucese and Brandon Biro cycled the puck, Hults walked into the high slot. Biro fed the puck to him, and Hults made no mistake as he snapped a shot top corner.
In a second period dominated by the Pioneers, Sacred Heart co-captain Marc Johnstone brought the Pioneers within a goal after a tremendous individual effort as he drove the net and lifted a shot over Jones.
The Nittany Lions would respond just a couple minutes later with a power play goal of their own. Hults picked up his second of the night with a point shot that found its way through traffic and floated over Benson’s glove.
Early in the third period, Hults and the Nittany Lions continued their power play prowess. Hults blasted home a one timer to complete his hat trick, the eighth in program history.
Minutes later, Sucese cashed in on a man advantage as well, wristing home a pass from Biro for the Nittany Lions’ fourth power play tally of the game.
The Pioneers got one back within a minute as Matt Tugnutt darted through the attacking zone and lifted a backhand shot into the net.
The Nittany Lions recovered their four-goal lead a few minutes later. In his first regular season game since Dec. 8, Aarne Talvitie gathered a loose puck in the slot and fired a shot through the legs of Luke Lush.
With the game winding down, Sam Sternschein notched another for the Nittany Lions, tucking in a backhand shot as he was parked at the front of the net. Then, with just over a minute to play, Connor MacEachern scored his first goal as a Nittany Lion, sliding home a backhand shot on a wraparound.