MADISON, Wis. The Penn State ice hockey team finished its inaugural season in style — and didn’t want it to end so soon.
The Nittany Lions rallied from two goals down to force overtime, then Taylor Holstrom netted his second goal of the game in the final seconds of play for a 3-2 win over No. 16 Wisconsin on Monday night at the Kohl Center.
“Last night we didn’t play so well,” Holstrom told the Big Ten Network. “(We) came out tonight, left everything on the line and we can compete.”
The game closed the regular season for the Nittany Lions (13-14), who competed at the NCAA Division I level for the first time. The team, along with Wisconsin and four other programs, will form the Big Ten hockey conference next season. Penn State was 3-2 against Big Ten teams this season, also earning wins over Ohio State and Michigan State, and earned its first win over a ranked opponent.
“Biggest win of the year,” said head coach Guy Gadowsky. “This is such a great win for them to go out with. ... This was our last game, this was our playoff game, this was our final exam and they were tremendous.”
Bailey netted the other Penn State goal, while Mark Zengerle and Joseph LaBate found the net for Wisconsin (14-11-7).
One night after being overwhelmed by the Badgers in a 5-0 loss, and being outshot 51-22, the Nittany Lions were up to the challenge, especially goalie Matthew Skoff.
The freshman netminder put up a brick wall all night, making several spectacular saves in the process, to give Penn State the chance with his 42 stops.
“Ever since the first two weeks of the year, he’s been phenomenal,” Gadowsky said of Skoff. “His mental strength is phenomenal.”
Wisconsin outshot Penn State in the game 44-36, but the Nittany Lions had the advantage 15-11 during their third-period rally and 3-2 in overtime.
The final shot was put in by Holstrom, who pounced on a rebound in a flurry in front of Badger goalie Landon Peterson. Defenseman Michael Longo started the play when he reached up to snare an attempted clear by the Badgers and sent the puck back into the zone to Holstrom in the corner. The junior forward’s initial shot was stopped, but in the ensuing scrum the puck bounded back to Holstrom on the side of the net and he slipped the puck past Peterson.
Casey Bailey and Max Gardiner picked up assists on the goal as they all took chops at the puck toward the net.
Fresh off falling behind 2-0 in the third period, Penn State finally got its offense churning. Immediately after LaBate had scored Wisconsin’s second goal, Holstrom took the ensuing faceoff from the blue line, split a pair of defensemen and beat Peterson for the first Lion goal of the weekend — a mere seven seconds after the Badger score.
“When we went down two, we said, ‘Let’s answer right away,’” Gadowsky said. “You can’t get much quicker than that.”
Bailey then tied the game six minutes later, again off a faceoff from Holstrom, when he slipped through the slot and poked the puck past Peterson.
The Badgers finally got the puck past Skoff when the freshman goalie was practically helpless on a 2-on-none break away. Working a give-and-go with Nic Kerdiles across open ice, after a Lion defenseman dove to tip the puck and missed, Zengerle took the feed back from Kerdiles and lifted the puck top-shelf past Skoff from just a few feet away.
It was Wisconsin’s only success against Skoff despite holding a 20-8 advantage in shots in the period.
For the second night in a row, Penn State was toe-to-toe with Wisconsin in the first period. The teams matched six shots on goal apiece in the opening period Sunday, and the Lions outshot the Badgers 11-10 Monday.
The Badgers then grabbed a 2-0 lead when LaBate skated along the boards on a break and, just past the blue line, sent a fluttering puck that handcuffed Skoff.
Much like several other weeks during the season, when the Nittany Lions played poorly for a bad loss but bounced back the next night, Penn State rebounded well again. It was similar to weekends against Michigan State, Air Force and the tournament at Pittsburgh with Robert Morris and Ohio State.
“They got it done,” Gadowsky said. “You can say you learned this or that, but it really comes down to being a lot better. I think they were a lot better. I give them a lot of credit for gritting down against a very good team. I tell you what, they’re great when they’re ahead and tough to get back on.”