It was worth the wait for the Penn State men’s hockey team.
After enduring more than 90 minutes of action Thursday afternoon, Zach Saar made sure the Nittany Lions’ season would last at least one more day.
After a defensive battle through regulation and the first overtime at Xcel Energy Center, Saar broke through for the winner for a 2-1 Penn State win over Michigan in the first game in the history of the Big Ten Tournament.
“First playoff win in Big Ten history for us,” said goalie Matthew Skoff, who had a spectacular night in goal, making a career-high 52 saves. “I mean, first playoff. That’s going to be looked at as a huge gain for the program in the future.”
On the heels of the longest game in program history, the Nittany Lions (8-25-2) will face Wisconsin at 3 p.m. Friday in the conference semifinals.
Taylor Holstrom netted the other Nittany Lion goal on a breakaway in the final minute of the second period.
Phil Di Giuseppe had the Wolverine score midway through the third period, and Josh Naglevoort stopped a career-high 63 shots.
“They’re very disappointed, devastated,” said Wolverines coach Red Barenson, whose team is on the bubble for an NCAA Tournament bid, which will be announced Sunday. “The one thing I can tell you, our team was not overconfident coming into this because we had hard-fought games coming into this, they’ve beaten us twice in four games. We’re disappointed we didn’t play well and win. It’s all about winning this time of year.”
As long as the game lasted, the ending came in a flash.
Lining up for a faceoff to Naglevoort’s right, Dylan Richard and JT Compher battled for the puck, which drifted a few feet back. With another Wolverine also fighting for the puck, Saar unleashed a quick wrist shot that zipped just inside the near post 12:47 into the second overtime for his fifth goal of the season to end the marathon.
“I think we ran a quick shot kind of,” the freshman winger said. “Our center, Dylan Richard, did a great job of giving us an opportunity to get the puck. Kind of just let it fly. Normal shot, it went in.”
“It was good faceoff play on their part,” Naglevoort said. “I’m not sure who put it home. Lost sight of the puck. Went down to cover, and the next thing I knew, it was in the net.”
It was a set play off a faceoff, but it was a surprise it produced a goal.
“It’s funny because we probably ran that kind of scheme on the faceoff countless times and I’ve never gotten it,” Saar said. “Coach always has the faith in us to keep doing it. Sure enough, tonight it goes in.”
In all, Penn State outshot Michigan 65-53, a season high for the Nittany Lions.
Solid defense set up Holstrom’s score.
With Michigan (18-13-4) working the puck in the Penn State zone, David Goodwin deflected a pass, with the puck bouncing over to Luke Juha. Holstrom broke ahead of the pack and Juha hit the junior center in stride to go one-on-one against Naglevoort, beating the freshman keeper low for his seventh score of the season.
Michigan tied it with 8:54 left in the third on a Penn State turnover. Mike Williamson tried to send the puck around the boards behind the net but Cristoval Nieves picked it off and sent a perfect feed to Di Giuseppe in the circle to rip his 13th goal of the season past Skoff.
While Skoff had a spectacular day in net, Eric Scheid had the defensive play of the day about 12 minutes into overtime. A Michigan shot rang off the post, with the puck spinning right on the goal line for more than a second but not over before Scheid kicked the puck away.
“I had a few choice words that I wouldn’t say right now,” Skoff said of what he saw on the play. “I guess the hockey gods had our back on that play.”
In a season filled with learning experiences, the Nittany Lions got yet another Thursday, and their season continues into Friday.
“I think we learned that we have guys with a lot of heart,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “I really like the fact that we were playing an excellent game and we allowed them to tie it up relatively late. I don’t think our demeanor changed that much.”