In two seasons with Notre Dame in the Big Ten, Penn State has seldom had trouble playing its brand of hockey against the Fighting Irish.
Whether the Fighting Irish just can’t handle the Nittany Lions or are simply comfortable letting them play that brand, Guy Gadowsky’s squad has maintained its up-tempo, shoot-from-anywhere style.
Perhaps it has been the latter, as the Fighting Irish know that no matter how many shots Penn State can generate, they have someone who can save the day for them.
That saving grace — otherwise known as goaltender Cale Morris — carried the Fighting Irish as they defeated the Nittany Lions 3-2 in Saturday’s Big Ten Tournament championship game.
Morris stopped 46 of Penn State’s 48 shots as the Fighting Irish repeated as Big Ten Tournament champions. Over the course of the Big Ten Tournament, Morris allowed just three goals on 129 shots.
Morris’ counterpart, Peyton Jones, was solid after a shaky start, stopping 26 of 29 shots.
It was, as it so often has been, Morris who stole the show. Even in the most troubling times for he and the Fighting Irish defense, Morris appeared composed, square to each shot he faced and, when needed, contorted himself to do whatever he could to keep the puck out of the net.
The Nittany Lions and the rest of the Big Ten have seen this countless times from the junior netminder. By now, a formula on how to best him should be obvious. Earlier this season, the Nittany Lions pumped five goals past him on just 15 shots.
But as Morris improved to 6-0 in Big Ten Tournament games, a formula remained lost.
“Hockey’s a team game. It’s not just Cale,” Gadowsky said. “You really have to give credit to their whole team.”
The Fighting Irish commitment to team defense has guided them now to back-to-back Big Ten Tournament titles. The Nittany Lions, meanwhile, see their season come to a close much earlier than they hoped.
After back-to-back trips to the NCAA Tournament, the Nittany Lions were eliminated from tournament contention with the loss.
“I’m proud of what, specifically, the senior class has done,” Gadowsky said following the game. “We were, I believe, a club team when they committed to us. They had a pretty good run.”
How It Happened
Nearly four minutes into the game, the Fighting Irish opened the scoring. Spencer Stastney weaved through the Nittany Lions zone and sniped a backhand shot over Peyton Jones shoulder on the short side.
Midway through the period, the Nittany Lions fourth line evened the game. During a scramble in front of Cale Morris, Sam Sternschein knocked a rebound over the Fighting Irish goalie.
With just under four minutes to go in the period, Cal Burke put the Fighting Irish back on top. During a scramble in front of Jones, the Nittany Lions goalie was knocked out of position, allowing Burke to knock in the rebound.
Just 34 seconds later, Alec Marsh evened the game back up at two, deflecting a shot over the shoulder of Morris.
In a back and forth second period, the Fighting Irish took the lead once again late in the middle frame. With just 1:36 separating the teams from the second intermission, Cam Morrison took a drop pass from Mike O’Leary and fired a wrist shot over Jones’ glove.