The college hockey world is impressed.
A 10-3 win against a national power in the NCAA tournament will do that.
“They’re very good,” Union coach Rick Bennett said, referring to the Nittany Lions. “Fast, tenacious, put pucks to the net like we knew they were going to.”
In its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance, the Penn State men’s hockey team put on an offensive show unlike any that had been seen in the postseason in more than a quarter century.
The Nittany Lions scored seven unanswered goals and barreled over Union, an NCAA tournament veteran, 10-3 Saturday evening in the first round of the Midwest Regional at U.S. Bank Arena. The convincing win sets up a date with the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed in Denver in the regional final at 6 p.m. Sunday for a spot in the Frozen Four in Chicago on April 6 and 8.
“We’ve never been accused of being too defensive,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “Tonight, the guys finished.”
Chase Berger and Nate Sucese led the charge with two goals and one assist apiece. Kris Myllari and Andrew Sturtz each had a goal and two assists, and Brandon Biro, Dylan Richard, Denis Smirnov and Nikita Pavlychev had the other scores to match the NCAA record for highest-scoring tournament game, when Lake Superior State beat Alaska Anchorage in 1990 by the same score.
“We just keep shooting; it doesn’t really matter what the score is,” Berger said. “Maybe a bit surprising to score 10, but I don’t think we let that stop us from going to the net.”
The total also broke the team record for goals in a game, as the Nittany Lions scored eight on three ocassions over the last two seasons but never surpassed that total.
“It’s very special,” captain David Goodwin said. “It’s something I’ve dreamt about, to be honest. I don’t know. It will feel a lot better with a win against Denver (Sunday).”
Peyton Jones made 21 saves for the win for the Big Ten champs (25-11-2).
Spencer Foo scored twice and Brendan Taylor had the other goal for the Dutchmen (25-10-3), who won the 2014 title and were making their fifth NCAA appearance in eight seasons.
The five-goal third period was stunning, especially against a team like the Dutchmen.
It started with Sucese pouncing on a rebound off an initial try by Goodwin just 70 seconds into the period, and the dam wall was ready to give.
“Being up two goals there and being lucky enough to go up three goals was huge,” Sucese said. “I think we really got rolling there after that sixth one. It was a blast.”
Smirnov struck with a lightning bolt to the top corner five minutes later to prompt a change of Union goalies, Pavlychev poked in a redirection on a power play, Sturtz banked one in off a Union player, and Sucese completed the deluge.
It was a difficult experience for a Union team that hadn’t surrendered more than six goals in a game this season.
“We did it to ourselves,” said leading scorer Mike Vecchione, who had just one assist. “We have no one else to blame but ourselves. I just wish we had a better effort.”
The first two periods provided a little foreshadowing of what was to come, with plenty of open-ice play and scoring.
The Nittany Lions probably got a little frustrated early because each of their first three goals got an answer from the Dutchmen.
Berger picked the pocket of a Union player to set up Biro for the game’s first goal — the first NCAA tournament score in program history — but Taylor took advantage of an out-of-position Jones 1:07 later to tie it.
Then it was Berger redirecting a Biro attempt, but Foo answered 24 seconds later. Myllari fired a rocket from the blue line to put Penn State ahead again 1:59 into the second, but six minutes after that Foo again had an equalizer 17 seconds into a power play.
Finally, Penn State had the lead — as it turns out for good — when Berger redirected Blake Gober’s pass from the boards, just as goalie Alex Sakellaropoul knocked the net off its moorings.
After Richard deposited a rebound, Penn State took a 5-3 lead into the locker room, and the Nittany Lions left no doubt when they returned to the ice for the final period.
“We were really committed to our game,” Goodwin said. “That really kind of took over midway through the second, definitely in the third period.”