UNIVERSITY PARK — It goes in the books as a shutout loss, but the Penn State men’s ice hockey team had to feel pretty good about its performance this weekend at the Greenberg Ice Pavilion.
Following a win on Friday, the Nittany Lions put on a stout defensive performance even while falling 3-0 to the U.S. under-18 national team on Saturday.
Only one goal was scored over the first 56 minutes of action, even as Penn State was being heavily outshot, and the Nittany Lions put on a penalty-killing display to start the game against a team littered with the best teenage talent in the nation.
“It definitely does something to our confidence,” said sophomore forward and team captain Tommy Olczyk of the overall performance for the weekend, which began with a 5-2 win Friday despite also trailing in shots on goal.
“We’re going in the right direction,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “There are a lot of positives to take out of it. If you’re looking at tonight, we’ve had some issues where we thought we could be more mentally tough. Tonight, first period, we killed five power plays in a row. I think that showed a lot of mental toughness.”
Sean Malone and Mike McCarron scored the U.S. goals, and Evan Allen added an empty-net score in the final minute against goalie P.J. Musico, whose 41-save night came 24 hours after another sterling performance in net by fellow keeper Matthew Skoff.
“I felt really good about it,” Musico said. “I really gave my team a chance to win tonight and that’s pretty much my job every night.”
On Friday, Skoff turned away 47 chances in the Penn State victory.
Musico faced 40 shots and only allowed the one score before Team USA found the net again late.
“Goalies are funny,” Gadowsky said. “They both had a great weekend. I thought he was excellent.”
At least the Nittany Lions (8-11) found out their penalty-kill unity works well. Penn State took four penalties in the first six minutes and five in the first 11, including a 5-on-3 for more than a minute. It was so bad, in the first 7:48 of game action, the Lions were full strength for just 65 seconds.
Yet each shorthanded situation was killed off, with Team USA (19-8-3-4) getting 11 shots on goal during those power plays, and Penn State survived a scoreless first period despite being outshot 19-4.
“In the locker room it was very positive,” said Gadowsky, whose team was outshot 18-5 on Friday in the first period. “We killed five power plays in a row. You’re not going to get very many shots killing power plays.”
Musico did not mind too much the situation, getting him into the flow of the game early.
“From a goalie’s standpoint, it’s kind of nice seeing more shots,” Musico said. “You kind of get into it a little bit more. I know that kind of helped with me tonight, having those early power plays. I know that making a couple saves and that gave the guys confidence and myself confidence. I felt like we were going after that.”
U.S. coach Don Granato admitted his power play units got worn down being on the ice so much so early.
“The power play guys were exhausted after the second one,” Granato said. “A credit to Penn State the way they killed — very aggressive. They’re strong on the puck. We had numerous battles and we had to go to four-line depth just so we didn’t give up a goal on the power play.”
Team USA finally broke the ice when Kevin LaBanc slipped a cross-ice pass to a wide-open Malone on the doorstep with an open net in front of him for the score.
Even though the U.S. got the only score of the period, Penn State found its offense and outshot the Americans 15-11 — the first period in which the Nittany Lions had won the shot count this weekend. Penn State was outshot for the game 44-25.