It was a moment of pure hustle. The reward was a goal.
With the puck sliding toward the corner, Penn State’s Zach Saar raced ahead of a Michigan player, shielding off the Wolverine with his 6-foot-6 body, getting to the puck first to negate an icing call. The senior then centered the puck to the slot for a waiting Ricky DeRosa for the score.
“The fourth goal was just huge,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “A great play by Zach Saar for Ricky, who buried it. … If we didn’t get that one, if they got that one, I think things might have been very different.”
The No. 7 Nittany Lions simply outhustled No. 20 Michigan on Thursday night in the Big Ten opener, using speed and a variety of goal-scorers for a 6-1 win at Pegula Ice Arena.
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“I think top to bottom we played a pretty good game,” DeRosa said after all four forward lines were involved in the scoring.
Andrew Sturtz scored twice and one goal each came from Liam Folkes, Trevor Hamilton and Erik Autio. Denis Smirnov assisted on three scores, giving him 16 assists and 25 points on the season, moving the freshman into a tie for the nation’s lead in the former and the No. 2 spot in the latter.
Peyton Jones made 28 saves, beaten only by Tony Calderone in the third period, as Penn State (12-1-1) outshot Michigan 48-29.
The Nittany Lions won their 10th straight with their unbeaten streak at a dozen games. The goal total was a season high allowed by the Wolverines (6-6-1).
Saar made his big play in the final minutes of the second, winning the race to the corner to set up DeRosa alone in front of the net with time to pick his spot.
“Zach works so hard,” DeRosa said. “He deserves everything he gets, I just kind of filed in late and he found me.”
“It was a great play to recognize what was going on and then not only to hustle and used his big body to protect his path,” Gadowsky said. “… It was a great hockey play.”
It showed how Penn State had turned the tables on the Wolverines from last season, all decisive Michigan wins.
“It seemed like they were quicker onto the puck underneath,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “They started the game fast and they finished fast. They played faster than we did, no question.”
The scoring started with a mad scramble in front of the net, when Sturtz slipped the puck in as the pile of bodies pushed goalie Zach Nagelvoort back into the net.
While that goal took a lot of dirty work, the second goal of the night got the style points, with Folkes swiping the puck from the corner, skating across the front of the crease and flipping it backhanded over Nagelvoort’s shoulder.
In the waning seconds of a power play, Hamilton made it 3-0 with a rocket from the blue line, then DeRosa added the final score before the Wolverines pulled Nagelvoort, who made 25 saves. Freshman Jack LaFontaine finished the game.
Sturtz scored again on a rebound for his 12th of the season, and after Calderone spoiled the shutout 30 seconds later, Smirnov set up Autio on a power play with four minutes left to close the scoring.
“Definitely we have to be a better team (Friday) night,” Berenson said. “Now they’re a good team, one of the best teams in the country right now and we didn’t measure up tonight.”
Notes: The teams close the series at 7 p.m. Friday. The game will be the annual Thon fundraiser and a Teddy Bear Toss will be held during the second intermission. It will be the final game of the semester for Penn State, which won’t return to the ice until Jan. 6 at Ohio State. … Michigan had allowed four goals in a game just twice all season. … Berenson did not commit to a goalie to start Friday.