Saturday night was memorable in so many, many ways for the Penn State men’s hockey team.
They pull off possibly the biggest win in program history, then fly home to a State College overflowing in joyous chaos after the football team had upset Ohio State.
“The win over Ohio State was so great for everybody,” hockey coach Guy Gadowsky said Monday afternoon during his weekly session with the media. “So great for us on the plane, Coach (James) Franklin, for the players, the community, the alumni, it’s been awesome.”
The Nittany Lion hockey team (3-1-1) had just beaten Notre Dame 3-2 in overtime in South Bend, Ind., while at the same time in State College about five minutes remained in the second quarter as the Buckeyes scored their first touchdown to lead 9-0.
The hockey guys watched some of the football game on their way to the airport, saw Penn State take a safety late in the third quarter to fall behind 21-7, according to captain David Goodwin, then they had to leave the bus for their charter flight home. They were out of touch from then on with football until the plane was about to descend to University Park Airport, when the pilot announced the final score from Beaver Stadium.
“That went like wildfire through the plane,” Gadowsky said, marveling at the reaction of his players.
“The heads popped up all the way back,” Gadowsky said. “It was really cool.”
By the time they were back on campus, they found bedlam.
“It was quite the scene to come back to State College,” Goodwin said.
The hockey team was happy to hop on the upset coattails for the night. The announcement of their final score at Beaver Stadium drew a huge cheer, and Sunday night on ESPN’s SportsCenter, Penn State was the star of the weekend for anchor John Buccigross (a huge college hockey fan).
“It’s great for our school,” said sophomore forward Andrew Sturtz, who scored the game-winner. “To have two upsets like that in the same weekend. Kudos to the football team. That is definitely unbelievable.”
Not to be overshadowed, the Nittany Lion hockey team tied No. 3 Notre Dame 3-3 on Friday before the Saturday win. It was the highest-ranked team beaten in program history, against one of the nation’s top scoring teams and a program that was in the NCAA tournament last season.
In overtime, goalie Peyton Jones had the puck at his end of the ice and noticed the Fighting Irish went to the bench to change lines. He saw Denis Smirnov wave and tap his stick on the ice and fired the puck ahead to the freshman forward, just as Sturtz jumped on the ice, and the pair raced ahead on a 2 on 1 break. Sturtz put one shot on goalie Cam Petersen, then dragged his skate and stick just enough to gather in the rebound and beat one of the nation’s top goalies.
“I was thankful to be in that position and I ended up getting able to whack home a rebound on a pretty good goalie,” Sturtz said.
The entire team mobbed Sturtz by the boards in celebration. With the success, the Nittany Lions are now ranked No. 19 in this week’s U.S. College Hockey Online poll, their first ranking of the season.
“It was good for us to, to see we could play against a team like that,” Sturtz said. “With how young we are.”
Put in perspective
The highest-ranked team Penn State had beaten before Saturday was then-No. 4 Massachusetts-Lowell on Nov. 15, 2014.
“A lot of the same feelings,” Goodwin said in comparing the wins. “A lot of the hard work paying off, and rowdy locker rooms afterwards.”
The Nittany Lions also had beaten a ranked Michigan three times the previous season, but all of those wins, it seemed, were from being underestimated. That is no longer the case for the program.
“That UMass-Lowell game was more taking them by surprise and us coming out with a little more fire,” Goodwin said. “There’s a new sense, kind of, going into these bigger games that we feel we can compete with anyone in the country.”
“(Wins of past) maybe caught the team napping a little bit,” Gadowsky said. “In this case, obviously not. We tied them the night before and it was certainly a legitimate game. It felt good.”
Home sweet home
After three of their first five games on the road, the Nittany Lions can now enjoy the spoils of home. They do not leave Pegula Ice Arena again until Jan. 6 at Ohio State, with 10 straight home games, starting with Canisius on Friday and Saturday.
Playing on the road helps build chemistry, toughness and dealing with travel and other issues out of their control. However, Gadowsky is glad they get to stay home. When asked about the homestand, he broke into a big grin before the question was done being asked.
“Jeez — there’s no better place to play,” Gadowsky said. “We love it. The guys love it.”