UNIVERSITY PARK — It was looking so good for the Penn State men’s ice hockey team.
The Nittany Lions had a three-goal lead and were poised to pick up the biggest win so far of their second season.
But a few costly penalties swung the momentum, and eventually the win slipped away.
Daniel Ciampini’s goal with three seconds left in regulation gave No. 15 Union a 5-4 victory Sunday night at Pegula Ice Arena to finish a sweep of the two-game weekend series.
“They took it to us in the third,” Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said. “It’s not one play in the end by one individual that cost us the game by any means. No way. This was a — we got tight. We stopped doing the things that got us to the point where we were at.”
A 4-1 Nittany Lion lead midway through the second period evaporated as Shayne Gostisbehere scored twice later in the frame, Matt Hatch tied it with just under seven minutes left and Ciampini then won it.
“I don’t think it’s ever nice to lose a game like that,” said Luke Juha, who had a first-period goal. “We came in with every intention to win it and we didn’t stick to our game plan in the third period and it really hurt us.”
Zach Saar, Eric Sheid and David Glen also found the net for Penn State (3-7-1), which has lost four straight — all to ranked teams.
Mike Vecchione also scored for the Dutchmen.
With the clock winding down and nearly everyone in the building assuming overtime was on the way, Ciampini spoiled the plans. He put a move on defenseman David Thompson to slip the puck behind him and get one-on-one with goalie Eamon McAdam. McAdam tried to knock the puck away but missed, and the junior winger had a wide open net.
“I’m still trying to figure it out,” Ciampini said. “I didn’t even know how much time was left. I just made a move, tried to get to the net, just saw the goalie poke-check, tried to go elude the poke check and slide it in.”
The game started to slip away in the second period, even as the Nittany Lions were building their lead, with 10 of their 12 penalty minutes in the period, including a 5-on-3 for the Dutchmen. Union took advantage, converting on three of its five power play opportunities.
“I thought our power play coming out there was a big help, getting a 5-on-3 also helps,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “I think you gain momentum off your power plays. Sometimes on your power plays you score, sometimes you just gain momentum I thought we did both.”
Penn State scored twice in the span of 1:25 of the second, with Sheid putting in his team-leading sixth goal of the season after a faceoff, followed by a crazy shorthanded goal for Glen, sending the puck from the corner toward the net, with it banking off the skate of defenseman Jeff Taylor and into the net.
“We were all feeling pretty good,” said Sheid, who also had a pair of assists. “We were playing well and getting bounces. We all had that feeling like we were in it to win it. A couple costly penalties, a turnover and we ended up giving up some of our lead. We got back on our heels and got away from what got us a 4-1 lead. The rest is history.”
The good feeling was short-lived, with the first of Gostisbehere’s two goals just 1:05 after Glen scored.
“I would think we were possibly a goal from icing the thing,” Gadowsky said. “Not only do you take penalties that can cause that momentum to shift, but obviously when you score on them, that’s a huge shift. You go from thinking you’re one goal in the game from being in control to, ‘Man, the ice is really tilted downhill now.’”
Penn State got to make an early statement, with Saar scoring his first goal of the season just 3:58 into the contest. Luke Juha had unleashed a blast from the point on the power play and Saar was among a scrum of bodies in front of the net and got his stick on the puck.
Juha then put in a power play goal of his own just over four minutes later, taking a cross-ice feed from Sheid through traffic and ripping a one-timer past Stevens.
The Dutchmen tied it in the third period when Hatch tried to feed the puck across to Michael Pontrarell, but it banked off Juha into the net.
“I thought we stopped skating, we started playing tight,” Gadowsky said. “They started making plays and playing fluid, and we didn’t seem to have the same explosiveness and the same — we got tight. Instead of making plays that were there we were trying to just get it out.”
Notes: The crowd of 5,177 was the smallest of the season. … The game was the final home contest of 2013 for the Nittany Lions. The next appearance in State College will be Jan. 12 against No. 1 Minnesota. … Penn State plays its first Big Ten game next weekend with a visit to No. 12 Wisconsin. … Penn State forward Max Gardiner returned to the ice, with a reduced number of shifts, after missing the last two games with an undisclosed injury. … Football coach Bill O’Brien watched the game from high in the student section. … McAdam had to change masks after he took a hard slap shot to his headgear, breaking something, 10 minutes into the game.