As season openers go, there wasn’t much to complain about for the Penn State men’s hockey team.
With a stout defensive effort causing plenty of turnovers to back the debut of freshman goalie Peyton Jones, it was pleasing to the eyes of the Nittany Lion faithful Thursday night at Pegula Ice Arena.
With Jones making 28 saves, Penn State had No. 16 St. Lawrence good and frustrated in a 4-2 victory over the Saints.
“It’s definitely a great start for us,” said Dylan Richard, who scored the team’s first goal. “A great momentum builder.”
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David Thompson, Andrew Sturtz and freshman Blake Gober also got in on the scoring.
Drew Smolcynski and Michael Laidley had the St. Lawrence goals while Kyle Hayton stopped 35 Penn State shots.
The teams meet again at 7 p.m. Friday to close the two-game series.
For Jones, it was a solid debut, using every bit of his body to stop the Saints.
“The first shot I actually got hit right in the head,” Jones said. “Besides that, I felt really good.”
He got beat by a pair of shots over his right shoulder, and lost a few rebounds that teammates were able to clear away, but he was otherwise sound.
“Really happy with the composure of Peyton Jones,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “When they had us on our heels a little bit, I thought he looked extremely composed.”
He also got a little help in the first period, when a shot handcuffed him a little, bouncing behind him and trickling toward the net before a teammate was able to clear it just before it crossed the line.
“When he shot it at first, he really didn’t get all of it,” Jones said. “I felt it hit my arm, and I kind of squeezed and I felt it slip out of my arm, so I just kind of laid back thinking it was behind me.”
He got help all night from his teammates, creating numerous turnovers and blocking shots. The backchecking to create turnovers were a major help.
“A lot of that has to do with hockey IQ,” Gadowsky said. “It’s not just a matter of your hands, it’s a matter of using your brain to do it.”
The defense blocked 22 Saint shots before they could reach Jones.
“I thought they were pretty composed,” Gadowsky said of the defensive unit. “Maybe that was a factor in how Peyton was playing.”
Smolcynski netted the first goal of the season, skating in front of Jones and lifting the puck over the freshman’s shoulder.
Richard tied it with a good, dirty goal, pouncing on a rebound with bodies all over the ice in front of the net.
After sustaining an injury late last season and having to work hard to rehab his body, it was good to cash in early.
“This has been a long, long, long eight or so months for him,” Gadowsky said. “I give him a ton of credit. I’m not sure anybody knows how much he had to go through. Just to see him play is great, to see him score is extremely fitting for everything he’s been through.”
Penn State took the lead just as a Saint penalty expired. Liam Folkes took the puck along the boards and, on the opposite side, Thompson skated into the zone and tapped his stick on the ice. Folkes found an opening through a maze of bodies to set up Thompson.
“His vision was excellent,” Gadowsky said of Folkes’ pass. “That’s a tough play for a righty (right-handed shot) to see and he saw it and make a great play. … That was a hockey player’s play right there.”
In the second period while killing a penalty, Chase Berger got loose and raced at Hayton. The shot was denied, but Sturtz pounced on the rebound, flicking the backhand into the open side of the net.
Laidley cut the margin back to one when he scooped up a puck in front of the net and lifted it top-shelf, but Gober stretched it back to the final margin with an empty-net goal in the final seconds.
“Especially with a young team, being the first game,” Richard said. “Going up against a team like that, they’re a strong team top to bottom.”