UNIVERSITY PARK — With less than 10 minutes remaining in regulation, Penn State’s Taylor Gross was in position to swing momentum back in her team’s favor again.
As a loose puck slid across the goal mouth, New Hampshire goaltender Vilma Vaattovaara lunged for it, but Gross quickly shot it past her to tie the game.
Things went the Wildcats’ way for the rest of the game, though. Including an empty-net goal, New Hampshire scored three times in the final five minutes as Penn State lost Saturday night’s back-and-forth battle 8-5 at Pegula Ice Arena.
“I’m really appreciative of our resilience, that continues to be a real strength of ours,” Penn State coach Josh Brandwene said. “This is another one of those opportune learning lessons in terms of the combination of pressure and patience at the same time, and that’s something that we’ve got to get better at coming off today.”
Following Gross’ goal, Wildcats forward Jenna Lascelle scored on a rebound after a rush down the ice.
The Nittany Lions’ deficit became even harder to overcome when defender Paige Jahnke was sent to the penalty box after the goal for hooking.
In the ensuing advantage, the Wildcats (4-2-1, 1-0-1 Hockey East) scored their third power play goal on a shot from Arielle O’Neill, the only player with multiple goals in the high-scoring game.
With time winding down, Nicole Gifford’s empty-netter tacked on New Hampshire’s fifth goal of the period to seal the victory.
“I think it just came down to the little things, like not getting the puck deep in the zone,” Gross said of the final momentum swing. “I think for the most part, we really stuck with them during the game. Obviously it was a high-scoring game, but we’ve got to tighten up the little things.”
What looked like a comfortable win was a game that neither team had complete control of until late.
Things started off well for the Nittany Lions (2-4-1). Shooting from a weak angle, freshman Laura Bowman said she was trying to create a rebound chance, but the puck found the net 40 seconds into the contest.
The Wildcats countered with two goals, including one on the power play. They controlled the puck for most of the first, leading in shots at the end of the period 15-7.
“Far and away, though, we were our own worst enemy in the first period,” Brandwene said. “We left at least 10 pucks in the neutral zone with opportunities to get pucks deep.”
Four of the Lions’ seven shots came on a power play that extended into the second period.
Seconds after the penalty expired, freshman Sarah Nielsen scored off a rebound from Shannon Yoxheimer’s shot, again 40 seconds into the period. Both teams scored one more time before the period ended, headed into the second intermission tied at 3-3.
The Lions started the final period the same way as the first two — scoring within a minute, this time by Kelly Seward. But the Wildcats countered seconds later to knot things up.
Later on, New Hampshire regained the lead when O’Neill received a puck that had just hit the cross bar, burying her slap shot right before a Penn State penalty expired.
Gross’ equalizer pumped life back into the Lions, but they were ultimately outshot in the period 15-8, as Wildcats coach Brian McCloskey picked up his 250th win.
Both teams return to Pegula Ice Arena for a Sunday contest at 2 p.m.
“I think it stings a little bit right now, but I think we’re going to come back tomorrow, tighten up the things that we need to tighten up and I think it will be a good day tomorrow,” Gross said.
The Nittany Lions continue their eight-game homestand with Robert Morris and Syracuse visiting the next two weeks.