The Penn State men’s ice hockey team found out how tough life is against the top teams in the country.
The Nittany Lions skated away with a pair losses against No. 13 Massachusetts-Lowell, but they showed Friday night they are not drastically behind a team that was in last season’s NCAA finals and began this season No. 1 in the country.
The River Hawks used three first-period goals to hold off Penn State 3-2 at Pegula Ice Arena to sweep the series.
“That last 30 minutes I think everyone was buying into what the coaches have been preaching,” captain Tomy Olczyk said. “Everyone was doing the little things. Everyone was backchecking hard, driving to the net hard, stopping in front, making it hard for their goalie. I think once we find a way to put 60 minutes together of playing that kind of hockey, there’s not a team that we won’t be able to compete with.”
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Joe Gambardella, Stephen Buco and Adam Chapie scored for the River Hawks (8-4), while Doug Carr made 35 saves.
Eric Scheid and David Goodwin netted goals for the Nittany Lions (3-5-1), and Luke Juha and Mark Yanis had assists.
“We matched, at least, playing unit against unit,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “We didn’t beat ourselves. Like we didn’t go out and take stupid penalties, we didn’t go out and make blatant mistakes in terms of our systems and we didn’t go out and have guys miss backchecks. I think we played as a unit a whole lot more consistently than we did (Thursday).”
In his first start at home, freshman goalie Eamon McAdam made 41 saves.
“He gave us a chance to come back,” Gadowsky said. “He’s a little nervous. He’s a freshman and he’s playing in a great building against a Frozen Four team, preseason No. 1. Sure there’s nerves but this was a great step for him.”
After he surrendered the three first-period scores, McAdam turned aside 31 shots over the final two periods.
“I thought I improved as I went along there,” McAdam said. “I thought I shut them down after a shaky first. That was kind of my goal going into the second and third. I guess I made it happen.”
Down 3-1 in the third period, Pegula rocked to life with Goodwin’s goal.
A poor clearing effort by Lowell’s Michael Kapla put the puck right on Goodwin’s stick alone in the slot. The freshman took his time, picked a spot and fired the puck past Carr.
“That was probably the best pass I’ve got all year,” Goodwin joked.
The Nittany Lions turned up the pressure after that but could not get another puck past Carr.
“With teams pressing like that, it’s always a challenge to respond,” River Hawks coach Norm Bazin said. “I thought we responded pretty well. We kept managing the puck and kept it out of trouble.”
While not two minutes into the game like Thursday’s contest, Lowell still found the net early, with yet another rebound goal. After McAdam had made an initial save, Derek Arnold gathered the puck to the side of the net and slid it through the crease to Gambardella in front.
Penn State got on the board a little later, with Luke Juha firing the puck from just outside the circle. The shot was deflected by a River Hawk defenseman, but the puck bounced perfectly off the boards behind the net to Scheid on the other side, deflecting off his skate and another defenseman and into the net.
The score broke a drought of 124 minutes, 37 seconds without a Nittany Lion goal.
“We knew if we could get that first one past them then we could start to build,” Goodwin said. “I really think with the glass breaking and that early goal, from there on I really felt we were really taking it to them. It’s something we can really build on.”
The tie lasted just 1:43 before Buco banked in a shot off McAdam from behind the goal.
Another rebound goal completed the first-period scoring, with Chapie pouncing on a McAdam stop to the left side of the goal and easily beating the goalie, who was not yet back into position.
In just the program’s second season, the Nittany Lions have to be realistic about facing an opponent like the River Hawks and find the small victories within the losses.
“You look at the difference in how we played in areas that we controlled from yesterday and today, I think it was a big difference and I look at it as a positive,” Gadowsky said. “We’re not judging our second season in Division I hockey against a Frozen Four opponent, as to whether we win or lost if we had success or not, That would be unfair.”
Notes: The game was delayed 11:07 minutes to fix a pane of glass behind the Penn State net at 9:53 of the second period. The break was in front of the student section, and a couple creative students had signs, “Are we not fixing this?” and another had a big arrow. A sellout crowd of 6,158 turned out for the first ranked team in Pegula Ice Arena. There were a few empty seats, especially at the top of the student section, in part because the Blue Band was not at the game. Gadowsky said defenseman Nate Jensen suffered “a lower body injury” and he does not expect it to be a long-term problem. Forward Max Gardiner has “an upper body injury” and “that one’s a little more serious than Jensen.”