UNIVERSITY PARK It was a play that would leave any hockey fan, coach or player amazed: Penn State goalie Peyton Jones made a stunning stick save last Friday night during a 3-1 win at Minnesota.
“When something like that happens, you can’t help but think, ‘Oh man, this is our night,’” coach Guy Gadowsky said Tuesday during his weekly media session. “I’ve seen that on SportsCenter, I’ve never seen that live.”
Nittany Lion fans can only hope to see it again when the team holds its first home series of the season, hosting American International at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday.
It’s worth an internet search to watch the Jones save — if you didn’t see it on SportsCenter’s Top 10 in the middle of the night Friday. It’s also the No. 2 play in the Top Five Plays of the weekend on NCAA.com.
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What happened? With about 3:30 left in the second period, and the Gophers on a power play, Penn State’s Nate Sucese fetched the puck behind the net and tried to fire it up the middle to clear it. But Minnesota’s Brent Gates deflected the pass to teammate Tommy Novak, who knocked the puck across the crease. Novak corralled the puck near the opposite post, and as Jones slid across following the puck, Novak sent a backhand pass perfectly to the stick blade of Mike Szmatula breaking in. Szmatula had a wide open net, but Jones dove back across the crease and deflected the shot with his stick.
“He does not quit on plays, to say the least,” forward Andrew Sturtz said. “You could see a lot of saves like that (from) Peyton during his career.”
The obvious reaction is, how lucky can you get?
Apparently, it wasn’t luck. Jones made a similar save during the team’s practice Saturday, then again Sunday in a pregame skate before the No. 11 Nittany Lions fell 6-3 to the No. 7 Golden Gophers.
“I remember thinking on Friday, ‘Oh man, that’s really lucky,’” Gadowsky said. “Then he did it twice (more) in the next 48 hours. I don’t know what kind of concentration that has.”
A banner night
Fans attending Thursday’s game should plan to arrive early. Banners to celebrate last season’s biggest highlights — winning the Big Ten tournament title and earning an NCAA tournament berth — will be raised to the Pegula Ice Arena rafters.
“It’ll be awesome,” Sturtz said. “It was a pretty special thing to be a part of that team last year. We’ll always remember that year and Thursday will be really nice.”
The team will be watching the ceremony, figuring to add to their emotions before the puck drops.
“It’s a really good problem to have,” Gadowsky said. “Are you concerned about it? Yeah. We understand what’s going on ... but it’s a concern I’d love to have every year.”
The weekend’s games are set for Thursday and Friday because the Nittany Lion football team hosts Michigan on Saturday night. The hockey players are looking forward to the football game — everyone on the team has tickets — and have big plans for the night.
“We’ll spend the day together as a team and with our families,” said Sturtz, noting many player relatives will be at Saturday’s game. “It’ll be a lot of fun.”
Even Gadowsky is looking forward to Saturday’s circus.
“I’m so pumped,” Gadowsky said. “I really want to see all this.”
The Nittany Lions are in the middle of an atypical stretch for October. They played their games Friday night and Sunday afternoon in Minneapolis, and because the second game was switched from Saturday on only two-week notice — because the Golden Gophers’ football game against Michigan State was moved to that night to accommodate television — the Nittany Lions could not get a charter flight home until late, not getting back to State College until 3 a.m. Everyone had classes but there was no practice Monday; that gave them minimal preparation before Thursday’s game.
“It’s not ideal, that’s for sure,” Gadowsky said. “It is what it is, and there are no excuses. We just have to make sure we take the days that we have to prepare as well as we can.”
Down, not out
Defenseman Kevin Kerr and freshman forward Evan Barratt missed the weekend’s games, though Gadowsky said both men were “day-to-day” and their injuries were “nothing I’m concerned with long term.”