Penn State hockey: Skoff's play solid between pipes

Matthew Skoff was a lazy skater as a kid. As a collegiate goalie his outlook is quite the opposite.

The sophomore Penn State netminder prefers to keep busy in his own end. He’d much rather play a game like Friday’s back-and-forth shooting gallery with Robert Morris that produced a combined 93 shots — 52 of them on Skoff’s net, 48 of which he turned aside — than a defensive affair where few pucks find their way to his crease.

“I love seeing action consistently,” Skoff said. “It’s easy to stay sharp and not think about stuff. Those games are fun to stay in. The 18- to 20-shot game is a mental battle I think. That’s a tougher game to be in.”

And Skoff kept the Nittany Lions (2-3-1) in the game against the Colonials and helped lead them to a 5-4 win inside the rink he called home as a youth player.

Skoff, who hails from McKees Rocks and grew up playing high school hockey inside the 84 Lumber Arena — then the RMU Island Sports Center Ice Arena — estimated he had nearly 20 family and friends in attendance to watch Penn State’s game against the Colonials.

Skoff didn’t disappoint.

He was busiest in the first period in which he turned away 18 shots. He blocked 16 in the second and foiled 14 more in the third to improve his career record to 11-9-1.

“Skoffer was great,” Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said. “I’m very thankful that he had a tremendous game because we needed it. We really did.”

It’s become a common trend for Skoff, who has faced 40 or more shots five times in 21 starts since arriving at Penn State. He’s faced a high volume of shots in a few high profile games.

Skoff is 3-2 in games where teams have peppered him with 40 or more shots. The two losses came in back-to-back games against Union last season. Meanwhile, he stopped 36 of 40 in a 5-4 win over Ohio State and 42 of 44 in the season finale at Wisconsin.

“You’ve seen that he’s played exceptional at Michigan State. He’s played exceptional at Wisconsin and I know that CONSOL (Energy Center) is sort of the same thing,” Gadowsky said. “He played exceptional there and he’s also had great games here. It certainly hasn’t been a pattern where he’s only played well west of State College.”

Team captain Tommy Olczyk played two years of junior hockey with Skoff and learned much earlier than most of their Penn State teammates that Skoff is the type of goalie, who can get better as a game wears on and more pucks come his way.

“It’s awesome because you might be able to be a little more creative because you know even if you make a mistake and the puck goes back the other way, Skoff’s going to be there to make the save,” Olczyk said. “That doesn’t mean, hey if you turn the puck over you don’t backcheck because Coach wants us to backcheck. That’s a part of our identity that we want to have but I think it lets us be a little more creative because we know if we make a mistake we know that Skoff’s going to be there to bail us out.”

Skoff wasn’t always the player tabbed with backstopping a team. In his first few years on ice, Skoff’s best defense wasn’t within the rules. It resulted in a permanent move to his current position.

“To be honest, my dad kind of convinced me to play goalie because I took too many hooking penalties as a player,” Skoff said. “I was kind of a lazy forward so he kind of stuck me in the net and it kind of took off from there.”