The dream season came to an end for the Penn State men’s hockey team Sunday night.
A combination of turnovers and a three-goal, second-period burst helped Denver to a 6-3 win over the Nittany Lions in the NCAA Midwest Regional Final at U.S. Bank Arena.
It lets the top-seeded Pioneers book a trip back to the Frozen Four at Chicago’s United Center.
“It’s nice to be going back to the Frozen Four for a second year in a row,” Denver coach Jim Montgomery said. “The experience of last year is going to help us immensely.”
Denver will face Notre Dame on April 6. Harvard and Minnesota-Duluth will meet in the other semifinal. The Fighting Irish beat UMass-Lowell 3-2 in overtime to earn their spot earlier Sunday.
The ride for the Nittany Lions (25-12-2) ends a little short, but on the heels of a Big Ten championship and an NCAA first-round win, they can be satisfied.
“The program and everybody with it won’t forget this year,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “It’s magical. It’s been tremendous. … We’ll remember this team forever.”
Troy Terry led the Pioneer offense with three goals and two assists on his way to the Most Outstanding Player award for the region, with two more scores for Jarid Lukosevicius and one for Adam Plant.
Nikita Pavlychev, Denis Smirnov and James Gobetz had the Penn State goals, putting up a good fight for a while but unable to sustain it for 60 minutes.
“I don’t think we were necessarily us, but you have to give them a lot of credit for making us not (be) us,” Gadowsky said. “I thought they were a very quick team, they won a lot of races and it was easy to see why they were the No. 1-ranked team in the nation.”
Peyton Jones made 22 saves but lost the duel with Denver’s Tanner Jaillet, who made 24 stops. The Lions were held to a season-low 27 shots, just the second time all season the nation’s most prolific shooting team was held to fewer than 30 attempts on goal.
“If you haven’t played Penn State and the way they play, they come at you,” Montgomery said. “You really have to be aware of what you’re doing defensively to be able to stop that offensive attack they have.”
After Penn State fought back to tie the game early in the second, the Pioneers took command.
With end-to-end action, Ricky DeRosa had a breakaway that was denied by Jaillet, and Denver had a rush back the other way finished by Terry to put Denver up for good 6:30 into the period.
“That was definitely tough,” DeRosa said of the turn of events. “Try to beat the goalie in stride … the goalie made great saves all night.”
Lukosevicius scored nine minutes later from the slot off a Penn State turnover, and then late in the period during a 4 on 4, Terry scored again on a redirection by the post.
It gave Denver a 5-2 lead, but the Nittany Lions tried to stay optimistic.
“We posted five goals in the third period yesterday,” DeRosa said. “That was kind of our mindset — just chip away at it.”
Lukosevicius gave the Pioneers a good start with a goal 3:17 into the game, and Plant made it 2-0 four minutes later.
Pavlychev cut the lead in half later in the first when he and DeRosa finished a 2 on 1 shorthanded break, and Smirnov tied the game when he swiped the puck and banked it off a Denver player from the side of the net.
“It didn’t faze the guys too much,” Pioneer defenseman Will Butcher said of losing the 2-0 lead. “We’re a resilient group and a close group.”
The Nittany Lions were back in the game, but it didn’t last long.
“Obviously you feel good after scoring a goal and tying the game, and hopefully you are able to build off that,” Smirnov said. “We played pretty well after that, but we let a couple goals in and could not recover from that.”
Penn State had a five-minute power play early in the third but could not convert. The Nittany Lions had a little momentum when Gobetz netted the first goal of his career, but they would not score again.
Terry closed the scoring, and wrapped up the hat trick, with an empty-net tally to nail down the end of the Nittany Lions’ season.
Pavlychev and defenseman Kris Myllari were named to the All-Tournament team.