It had been just over a year since P.J. Musico had last started a game for the Penn State men’s hockey team.
There had been a few appearances late in games, but the junior goaltender had been patiently waiting for his moment.
It came Saturday night at Mariucci Arena, facing No. 2 Minnesota, and he savored every second.
“I had a smile on my face the whole game because I enjoy what I do,” Musico said. “Getting to play obviously is refreshing, almost. I had a lot of fun, and usually when I have a lot of fun, I’m doing really well.”
Musico made 35 saves, several of the brilliant variety, and had the Nittany Lions in the game all the way to the end of a 2-1 loss to the Golden Gophers, who entered the weekend series with one of the nation’s top scoring offenses.
Last season Musico played quite a bit, posting a 4-6 record, but he has essentially been the No. 3 goalie most of the season with Matthew Skoff returning and playing well, and freshman Eamon McAdam arriving on campus with a loaded resume that included being drafted by the New York Islanders.
But Musico has not pouted, and worked hard each week in practice while keeping his attitude positive.
“You can only control the things you can control,” Musico said. “I knew I obviously was going to have to keep my work ethic up. Of course, both those guys are great goalies and it’s great to compete against them in practice.”
The coaching staff charts how well the goalies do both in games and practices, and Musico had been doing just as well as hit counterparts. It was time to reward him.
“Its incredibly fun watching someone like that play so well, battle and compete,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “It’s awesome and it’s something that’s infectious.”
The effort certainly rubbed off on his teammates Saturday night.
“He’s working hard in practice and it’s nice to see him finally get his chance,” defenseman Patrick Koudys said. “He performed well. Obviously we would have liked to get that win for him.”
The move has essentially pushed McAdam into the No. 3 spot, at least for the moment. He has not played since a 5-1 loss to Ohio State on Jan. 31. In 10 games he has a 4.09 goals-against average, a .882 save percentage and has yet to pick up a win.
With four games left in the regular season, Gadowsky was expecting more, and he hope the freshman is learning from this new experience.
“He’s been given 10 starts – that’s a lot,” Gadowsky said. “He certainly has had plenty of opportunity. … He hasn’t had a win yet. If he has, and he has a great save percentage and great goals-against, I’m sure you would see him. This is a factor of him not getting the results that he would probably want, and also a factor of P.J. competing extremely hard and being a great teammate and having a great attitude, and then when he got in played extremely well.”
Typically the starting goalie is not decided upon until Thursday before a Friday game, and the Nittany Lions will tangle with No. 5 Wisconsin this weekend at Pegula Ice Arena (7 p.m. Friday and Saturday), so who will be in goal against the Badgers each night will remain a mystery a few more days.
Musico said he has a big exam on Friday and is more concerned about that than whether he will be starting. He also has just been enjoying whatever moments of ice time he gets.
He said he appreciates his situation more because he knows it could be worse. He has a home and a team for one more year after this one, and he has had a part in the building of a new program. Before he got to Penn State, the southern California native who grew up playing roller hockey said there were stretches he didn’t know where he would be playing, or if he would be returning there the next year.
Before Saturday’s start, Musico had played just over 70 minutes all season, getting into four games while allowing eight goals, with mop-up duty in a couple bad losses.
But in his last appearance the week before, in relief of Skoff in a 5-2 loss at Michigan, Musico didn’t allow a goal and made five saves.
Getting a solid outing like that in relief, in an intimidating place like Yost Ice Arena, helped pave the way for last Saturday.
“I’ve only seen minutes here and there, and obviously getting thrown into some pretty sticky situations,” Musico said. “Confidence-wise I’d say it helped a lot, making some good saves, especially playing in a building like Yost and playing in Mariucci, it was a blast. I couldn’t tell you how fun it was. I wish I remembered more because I was just having so much fun and in the moment.”