Penn State’s series against Michigan State was, for lack of a better word, strange.
That the Nittany Lions played significantly better one night than the other isn’t unusual. What made it so peculiar was how those performances contrasted the final scores.
The Nittany Lions had one of their best performances of the season on both sides of the puck on Friday, but John Lethemon decided to have a career night as his 48-save shutout guided the Spartans to a 2-0 win.
The following night, in what coach Guy Gadowsky admitted wasn’t their best performance, the Nittany Lions had more luck against Lethemon and the Spartans to the tune of a 6-4 victory.
“The coaching staff still feels very strongly that Friday night’s performance was one of the best we’ve had in years. In terms of what we can control and in certain results, specifically defensively, that was maybe the best game we’ve had in a long, long time,” Gadowsky said. “Saturday, we ended up with a positive result, but we took steps back in a few areas.”
Unlike the Nittany Lions’ series against Alaska-Fairbanks, which featured a similar disparity in performance but one that matched the outcome, the bizarre nature of the outcomes makes any assessment of the weekend much less straightforward.
The Nittany Lions avoided penalty trouble on Friday, aiding their defensive stats. On the other hand, the Spartans largely kept the Nittany Lions’ shots to the outside, limiting quality chances against Lethemon.
On Saturday, puck luck just seemed to be on Penn State’s side, best exhibited by Clayton Phillips first goal as a Nittany Lion. The transfer from Minnesota gathered the puck at the left point, mere inches from the blue line, and sent a floater to the net that eluded Lethemon.
The Nittany Lions know they can’t rely on puck luck any more than they can expect the opposing goalie to have a career day. Gadowsky made sure to emphasize that neither performance was indicative of how the season will unfold.
“As long as we understand that, we can learn from it and move forward.”
Barratt Goes Viral... Again
Evan Barratt is no stranger to highlight reel goals and top ten lists. After pulling off a lacrosse-style beauty against Arizona State last season, Barratt performed another magic trick against Michigan State on Saturday.
“The things he does in a game, his mind is just really, really special,” Gadowsky said following the game. “Like, to do that in a game that’s just... I can’t really comment too much because that’s beyond anything I would ever do.”
Almost from the moment the puck hit the back of the net and Barratt hit the ice in celebration, the dazzler has made the rounds on social media.
While Barratt hasn’t been bragging about his second viral goal in as many years, his linemate Liam Folkes has certainly been hearing about it.
“It’s all over the internet right now. I got a lot of mentions saying, ‘Oh Liam, there you are, watching Evan Barratt do cool things again.’ It’s always nice to be front row for that,” Folkes said.
The third member of the trio, Alex Limoges, may have been the last person in the arena to see the display of skill.
“I was getting off the ice, and I kind of saw something out of the corner of my eye and everyone jumped up,” Limoges explained. “I was asking around on the bench and no one was answering, everybody was just cheering, so I waited for the replay. I just shook my head. He came to the bench, I was like, ‘Come on man. Like, give them a chance.’”
For the past few seasons, November has been about more than just hockey to Penn State. Since 2016, the Nittany Lions have competed against one another for facial hair fame. Goaltender Chris Funkey was crowned the first two seasons before forward Ludvig Larsson claimed the title last year.
A new champion will emerge this season, but there will be no losers this time around. The team has partnered with the official Movember Foundation as each player will work to raise money for the foundation’s goals.
#GrowYourMo and donate to help us raise much-needed funds and awareness for #menshealth this #Movember - for all the dads, brothers, sons and mates in our lives. Help stop men from dying too young! #WeAre #HockeyValleyhttps://t.co/b4NeHBIMuW— Penn State Men’s Hockey (@PennStateMHKY) November 7, 2019
As of Monday night, Alex Limoges’ $715 edges out James Gobetz’s $650 for the team lead. In terms of facial hair growth, the leader may be up for debate, and everyone has their opinion on the frontrunner.
“Best mustache? Me,” Liam Folkes claimed.
Coach Guy Gadowsky favors Blake Gober’s mustache as the leader of the pack. While there’s some disagreement at the top, there seems to be a consensus pick at the bottom — team captain Brandon Biro.
“It’s too blond, and he looks like he’s five,” Folkes said.
Biro may take a hint from his teammates, some of whom have incorporated performance enhancing substances to their routine. Defenseman Clayton Phillips claims to have used Just For Men to give his mustache an extra pop.
“He used it yesterday and it still doesn’t even look very dark,” Limoges pointed out. “A lot of the freshmen used it too, so we’ll put him in that category.”
“He’s trying, that’s all we can ask.”
There’s suspicion that others have put it to use as well, even if the evidence is circumstantial.
“[Mason] Snell has blond hair but he has a black mustache, it just doesn’t fit,” Folkes said.