Penn State Hockey

Penn State victory lap worthy of storybook

Penn State forward Zach Saar (17) is one of five seniors on this year’s Nittany Lion hockey team.
Penn State forward Zach Saar (17) is one of five seniors on this year’s Nittany Lion hockey team.

It was a victory lap that would be hard to top.

These seniors know how to say goodbye in style, both intentionally and unintentionally.

“It was just a really special night overall for all of us,” senior forward Zach Saar said Monday afternoon. “Especially in that fashion, I’m really lucky to have concluded my four years in that kind of night.”

Saturday night at Pegula Ice Arena, there were so many scenes and events that in a lot of ways would be hard to conjure up in a work of fiction.

Adding to the collection of subplots was what was on the line for the Penn State men’s hockey team, which is very much in the hunt for an NCAA tournament berth. The Nittany Lions needed a victory desperately Saturday, even as they wanted to salute their seniors.

They got the win with ease 6-0 over Wisconsin, though freshman goalie Peyton Jones had a lot to do with preserving such a lopsided final margin on the scoreboard in a game anything but lopsided.

All that led to the moments that can make college sports so special.

First, in the final two minutes, the Badgers were whistled for two penalties, giving the Nittany Lions a 5 on 3 power play for the game’s final 44 seconds. Then, sophomore Alec Marsh had a brilliant idea: Let the five seniors skate the last shift together. Never mind that the group included four forwards and only one defenseman. It meant Saar would be moved back.

“I had no business being on the blue line,” he joked about his first career turn as a defenseman.

But of all people, it was Saar who scored the final goal, unloading a rocket blast from the point. It was just his fourth goal in his 16th game of the season out of the 32 the team has played.

The Penn State bench was going crazy, the arena exploded with joyous cheers, but Saar heard none of it, only the shouts and embrace of his four classmates.

Once the game concluded, there were many of the typical scenes, even if the postgame hugs and handshake line with the Badgers were much slower than average. Then, like every other home game, the team gathered around the center circle and tapped and waved their sticks to thank the fans and gathered at one end of the ice for the alma mater.

But as most of the team headed for the tunnel to the locker room, captain David Goodwin decided they had to do more. The five seniors took a slow victory lap around the arena, waving to fans, then gathered for one last group embrace a few feet away from where they hugged a few minutes earlier after Saar’s goal.

“It’s the last time we’re going to be out there wearing that jersey, so I wanted to stay out every extra second I could,” Saar said.

It was a strong mix of emotions for the quintet of Goodwin, Saar, Dylan Richard, Ricky DeRosa and David Thompson, balancing the importance of the game for their postseason hopes with knowing it was their home finale.

“I think my mom was a little more disappointed that I wasn’t more emotional,” Goodwin said Saturday night. “I was like, ‘Sorry Mom, I’ve got to focus on this game.’”

Goodwin said compartmentalizing his emotions was not a challenge — until those final seconds.

“I tried to kind of block all that out because of the fact that it was a huge game for our season and in a lot of ways it was just one game,” he said. “I tried to block all that out, but toward the end, especially in that 5-on-3 with Saar’s goal, it really started to settle in that my time here was over.”

There are still paragraphs, maybe even chapters, left in this season’s story, and the Nittany Lions have hopes for the happiest of endings.

But Saturday night’s tale, throwing in two goals for Goodwin among four netted by seniors, will be hard to beat.

Said coach Guy Gadowsky: “You can’t really write it up much better than that.”

Gordon Brunskill: 814-231-4608, @GordonCDT