UNIVERSITY PARK — With two goals in the first eight minutes, it appeared the Penn State men’s ice hockey team was going to pour on the offense Friday night at Pegula Ice Arena.
Sacred Heart, and goalie Alex Vazzano, thwarted those plans.
A last-minute goal spoiled the shutout, but goalie Matthew Skoff and the Nittany Lions still earned a 2-1 win over the Pioneers for their second straight win.
“It was disappointing we couldn’t give him the shutout,” said defenseman Luke Juha, who scored the first goal. “He deserved it.”
Ricky DeRosa netted the other early goal while Will Rayner put in the Sacred Heart score.
The contest began a five-game homestand for Penn State (3-3-1). The team will host a two-game series against UMass-Lowell, a Frozen Four participant last season, on Thursday and Friday.
The Nittany Lion offense was practically on fire right from the opening faceoff, and they peppered Vazzano with 16 shots in the first period while giving up just three.
“The first period was by far our best,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “I think it was our best in attacking and odd-man rushes as well. It is definitely indicative of what we’d like to see as a team.”
That kind of start, plus a 39-21 shot disparity for the game, had Gadowsky scratching his head why his team did not score again.
“After that, I certainly expected that we’d get a few more,” he said.
On its first power play of the night, Penn State cashed in.
With a feed from the corner from David Goodwin, Juha ripped a shot from the point that handcuffed Vazzano. The goalie blocked the puck but it popped up and over and shoulder, then bounced off his back into the net.
“It was a win off the draw, I saw a lane and I shot it,” Juha said. “The goalie made a blocker save and it trickled behind him. … Good things happen when you shoot the puck.”
Just over four minutes later, seconds after Sacred Heart (2-5) had killed another penalty, DeRosa knocked home a rebound after Vazzano had denied a couple attempts from Tommy Olczyk. DeRosa celebrated by leaping into the arms of a teammate.
“I thought (Olczyk) was going to bury it at first,” DeRosa said. “He made a good shot, it hit the pad, and I was just kind of coming around, crashing the net and sat about right there and put it in.”
Meanwhile, Skoff was at the other end stopping shot after shot, even if he didn’t see that many of them. He made just 20 saves.
“I think I speak for any goaltender, they want action, they want action, they want action,” Skoff said. “I just kept telling myself Sacred Heart was going to come. They’re going to keep getting shots and I just have to be patient.”
He also got plenty of help from his teammates in keeping the Pioneers off the scoreboard until the final minute.
Juha made a “save” with just over a minute left in the second period. Sacred Heart’s Drew George swiped at a rebound during a rapid-fire shot session, with Skoff eventually sprawled face-down on the ice. The puck trickled toward the net, but Juha got his stick on the puck just before it crossed the goal line and cleared it away.
“It’s the classic story of being at the right place at the right time,” Juha said. “I was just in front of the net and I saw the puck trickle behind Skoff. It was pretty instinctive.”
“He looked so calm — that’s what sort of surprised me,” Gadowsky said of Juha. “It seemed to be very frantic everywhere except for him.”
Fellow defenseman David Thompson also helped out by getting his stick out to thwart a wrap-around attempt from Sacred Heart.
“In a game that ends up 2-1, obviously that’s huge,” Gadowsky said. “I want to give him a little more credit than that. He played great defensively, but he also made some great offensive plays.”
It appeared Penn State netted its third goal 1:18 into the third period when David Glen pounced on a rebound and his shot got redirected into the net by Casey Bailey as he was lying in the crease, but the officials ruled the puck was kicked into the net.
The shutout disappeared with 28.7 seconds left. With Vazzano pulled for an extra Pioneer attacker, and a Lion in the penalty box, Sacred Heart had a 6-on-4 situation and Rayner redirected David Ianono’s shot from the point past Skoff.
“It is what it is,” Skoff said. “I’d rather take the win.”
Vazzano finished with 37 saves.
Notes: During the second intermission, Penn State honored Joe Battista for his three-plus decades of dedication to the university and hockey programs. Friday was his final day as associate athletic director for ice hockey. He is leaving for a post with Penn State alumnus Terry Pegula’s business. … The Nittany Lions lost forward Taylor Holstrom to a “lower-body injury,” according to Gadowsky. The coach said he expected the junior to return for the UMass-Lowell series. … The announced paid attendance was 6,042, but there were a few hundred empty seats scattered around the arena. … Penn State finished 1 for 7 on the power play, while Sacred Heart was 1 for 8.