The Penn State men’s hockey team owned the nets Friday night at Pegula Ice Arena.
Scoring twice in a little more than two minutes to open the game will certainly deliver confidence.
Paced by two goals apiece for Liam Folkes and Sam Sternschein, and three assists from Chase Berger, the Nittany Lions rolled to a 7-2 win over Michigan State.
Kris Myllari, Evan Barratt and Andrew Sturtz had the other goals as the Nittany Lions (8-7, 3-4 Big Ten) netted at least five goals for the fifth time this season and moved over the .500 mark for the first time.
“Everyone’s getting more and more comfortable as the season goes on,” said Folkes, who has five goals on the season. “It’s obviously showing the last few weeks.”
Peyton Jones was solid, making 27 saves to impress the near-full house despite the holiday weekend with Penn State students on break.
“You come out and the student section is absolutely packed,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “The support we get from the community is absolutely phenomenal.”
Taro Hirose and Brennan Sanford had scores for the Spartans (7-6, 1-4).
Player of the Game
Goalie Peyton Jones: The offense usually stars in a seven-goal game, but the Nittany Lions needed some big saves from Jones in goal, including stopping a pair of first-period breakaways. The first was just over 12 minutes into the game, stuffing Sanford, and the second was a denial of Jake Smith in the final minute of the period after a Lion turnover.
Sanford, however, won the next breakaway battle, beating the sophomore netminder in the second.
Jones also had a handful of big saves to back a solid penalty kill performance when the Spartans had a 5-on-3 advantage in the third.
“Peyton came up huge when we were at our worst,” Gadowsky said. “He was at his best and that makes a big, big difference.”
Sternschein scored his first with a long feed from Trevor Hamilton straight up the middle, with the freshman alone on the break with 1:58 left in the first. He added his second score 53 seconds into the second, converting Brandon Biro’s connection on a 2-on-1 break.
“It’s not too much about who’s doing the scoring,” Sternschein said. “(We had) seven goals tonight, a lot of scoring last weekend — keep shooting the puck and getting progress.”
Folkes found the same top-right corner of the net for both of his goals.
The first came from a tight angle below the faceoff dot in the first period. He hit that target again, from a slightly better angle, in the second.
“The first one I kind of shut my eyes and, luckily, it went in,” Folkes said, later adding he did have the spot picked out for the second goal. “I’ve just been trying to shoot the puck and it’s luckily been working out for me more and more this year.”
Myllari was on the doorstep to open the scoring one minute in, knocking in Berger’s feed from across crease. Just 1:13 later, Barratt fired the puck in from the right faceoff circle on a power play to double the margin. Sturtz closed the scoring with Berger’s third helper, which was Sturtz’s team-leading eighth goal of the season.
Junior defenseman Kevin Kerr saw his first action since the opening weekend of the season, taking longer than expected with a lower-body injury.
“It’s never fun not playing,” Kerr said. “All I can say is I’m excited to be back right now, play and help the team.”
He didn’t waste much time helping out, picking up a pair of assists.
“First priority’s getting a win,” Kerr said. “Any time you can go out there and make an impact and help the team, it feels good.”
Smirnov returning soon
Gadowsky said sophomore Denis Smirnov, last season’s top scorer, has already returned to his classes after a long illness and should be back on the ice before the next holiday break.
The two-game series will be completed at 8 p.m. Saturday with the final conference home game until January.