Withstanding a barrage of shots from a very talented team, the Penn State ice hockey team had the best weapon — a hot goalie.
Matthew Skoff was more than up to the challenge Friday night at the Greenberg Ice Pavilion.
The freshman goalie put on an incredible performance, stopping 47 shots with a lot of help from his defense, as the Nittany Lions rallied past the U.S. national under-18 team 5-2.
“Skoffer was fantastic. There’s a couple saves that were just dynamite,” said Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky, whose team was outshot 49-30. “Then he many saves because there were a lot of saves that he should make, but he also made a few that you shouldn’t make. He certainly kept us in it. We weren’t going to win that game without him.”
Several stops were downright spectacular, with the best coming with a little over a minute left in the second period, making one save next to one post and the rebound going right to Team USA’s Shane Eiserman. With a gaping net, several Team USA members began to celebrate the goal but Skoff shot across the crease in a full split and stuffed the attempt with his pads.
“He kept it tight long enough for them to convert on some scoring chances,” U.S. coach Don Granato said. “... His focus was outstanding and certainly a key performance by him in that. There’s no question about that. He robbed a few guys.”
Skoff admitted he was in a zone Friday night.
“That’s just good overall confidence for a team,” Skoff said, “not just me.”
The performance was made even more amazing by Penn State skating with just five healthy defensemen.
“The defense did a good job keeping the shots to the outside,” Skoff said. “They’re a team that shoots the puck a lot. ... The whole D-corps really stepped up with only five healthy D.”
Kenny Brooks scored two goals, including an empty-net shot with seven seconds left, while George Saad, Tommy Olczyk and Joseph Lordo each netted one score. Lordo’s rocket from the blue line was the game-winner.
Connor Clifton and J.T. Compher netted goals for the U.S. while Thatcher Demko made 25 saves.
Lordo launched a rocket from the blue line to put the Nittany Lions ahead. Taylor Holstrom was alone in the corner when he sent out a diagonal pass that appeared to be off the mark for Casey Bailey, but Lordo skated right behind Bailey and ripped the puck through a clear lane past Demko and high inside the post.
Olczyk then padded the lead with a perfect chip shot over Demko’s shoulder, redirecting the pass of Michael McDonagh from behind the net.
“Tonight, to see that line get rewarded, but also how they did it,” Gadowsky said of the forward line of Olczyk, McDonagh and Michael Longo. “They were getting pucks deep, doing things we like everybody to do and doing it with consistency was great for us to see.”
On Team USA’s first goal, Hudson Fasching made the score possible by swiping the puck near the blue line before Penn State could send it out of the zone, and immediately circled around and broke in on the net. Scoff stopped the shot but the rebound slid right to Motte, who had an open net to knock it in.
It may have been the only score of the period, but the Americans dominated play, outshooting Penn State 18-5.
A fight broke out at the end of the period, and it had repercussions for Penn Sate in the second. Holstrom got an extra two minutes in the penalty box, and 37 seconds into the frame Compher ripped a shot from the right circle past Skoff.
The Lions did answer about two minutes later, when Saad pounced on the puck to the side of the net and knocked it past Demko.
“He’s a guy that works his butt off every practice, every game,” Gadowsky said. “The team really got a lift by him scoring the goal, the importance of it.”
Mark Yanis, in his first game back on defense after missing more than two months with a broken ankle, assisted on the score.
“I stayed really strong,” Yanis said. “I was really happy with it. I had no problems. My wind was really good.”
Penn State then got the equalizer midway through the period on a big 5-on-3 power play, when Curtis Loik fired the first shot on Demko that was blocked, but Brooks skated across the slot and slipped the puck behind Demko.
On Brooks’ empty-net score, he slid the puck from just past center ice into the open goal.
Notes: According to Associate Director of Athletics Joe Battista, Penn State’s game against Vermont next Saturday at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center has been moved to an 8 p.m. start time. The change was made to accommodate the apparent season-opening game between the Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins in the afternoon, although the NHL has yet to officially announce the schedule. ... A sellout crowd of 1,300 was on hand, taunting the American team members all night but chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A!” when the game ended. ... The teams meet again at 7:30 p.m. today.