Peyton Jones has only played five games in a Penn State men’s hockey uniform, but coach Guy Gadowsky was already doling out some high praise for the freshman earlier this week.
The Nittany Lion leader compared Jones to Carey Price, the Montreal Canadiens’ netminder many would argue is the best in the NHL.
“Peyton has a lot of Carey Price in him,” Gadowsky said. “He’s just very calm, very in control, very even-keeled and that’s what’s important.”
While it may be early, Jones is a big reason the Nittany Lions are off to a 3-1-1 start to the season and have made their first appearance in the national rankings.
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The No. 19 Nittany Lions begin a long 10-game homestand when they welcome Canisius to Pegula Ice Arena for 7 p.m. games Friday and Saturday.
Getting a start in net this weekend will be Jones, who has been one of the Big Ten’s three stars each of the last two weeks, including the No. 1 star this past Tuesday.
He picked up the most recent accolade after guarding the net in a 3-3 tie and 3-2 win over then-No. 2 Notre Dame on the road.
It was the toughest competition Jones had ever faced, not just during his short time in college but also in juniors.
“You wouldn’t realize that by the way his actions were,” Gadowsky said. “He certainly didn’t look any different. His demeanor is really impressive.”
Jones influenced the team to those results not just with stopping pucks, but also with his style. Gadowsky feels a team can feed, in various ways, off a goalie’s temperament.
“A goaltender, his job isn’t only to stop pucks,” Gadowsky said. “… He’s also an atmosphere regulator. How the goalie is, is often how you play, especially in the defensive zone, but I think it perforates through the whole team in all three zones.”
The calmness also showed during the 5-minute overtime period in the first game of the weekend, when the Fighting Irish bore down on him on a 2 on 1 break and he denied the attempt.
“The bench wasn’t calm at all. He was calm,” Gadowsky said. “The coaches certainly weren’t calm. That was huge. And just the way he handled it, yeah — the guys were pumped, the coaches were pumped, that was one of those, ‘We’re not losing this one.’”
Jones, in many ways, may be one of the biggest keys to this season. If he continues to play this way, and keep calm in the chaos of the crease, the team will continue to feed off his play. Jones is athletically gifted and 6-foot-4, making him a prototype of what NHL teams are seeking — kind of like Price.
“He is the best,” Jones said of the comparison. “As a goalie, everyone does different things. To kind of like shape my game, you look at everyone and take different bits and pieces of everyone and make your own style of play.”
Gadowsky said when he first started recruiting, he wanted a completely different goalie, one with fire and intensity. Now, he admits he wants the complete opposite.
Jones has had one bad outing — but so did the team for a stretch. He gave up three goals in the first 4:50 and was pulled for the night.
Otherwise, he’s been solid. He earned his first shutout against Mercyhurst, and for the season he has a .916 save percentage and 2.40 goals-against average.
He also has one other thing going for him — he got his dad to change allegiances.
His father was an Ohio State fan, and they made the trek from suburban Philadelphia a few times to watch games at Beaver Stadium. Peyton said he convinced his dad to switch sides when the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions tangle — like last Saturday night.
It’s hard to root against your son’s school.
His school certainly likes the way Peyton Jones has started his college career.
“He didn’t let the first game get to him, and he definitely didn’t let the second game get to him,” sophomore forward Andrew Sturtz said of the Notre Dame series. “To see that as a bit of an older guy, it’s really good to see and it’s good for the whole team.”
Who: Canisius (2-3-1) at No. 19 Penn State (3-1-1)
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday
Where: Pegula Ice Arena
Radio: WAPY 103.1
Leading scorers: Can — Felix Chamberland (3 goals, 2 assists), Ryan Schmelzer (2 G, 3 A); PSU — Andrew Sturtz (4 G, 1 A), Nate Sucese (4 G, 0 A), Chase Berger (1 G, 5 A), Trevor Hamilton (1 G, 5 A), Denis Smirnov (1 G, 5 A).