The Penn State men’s hockey team has shown some flashes of brilliance in its speedy rise from fledgling Division I program to national contender.
But a hard lesson was handed to the Nittany Lions on Friday, spoiling the night for a packed Pegula Ice Arena: Flashes of brilliance, over a longer period of time, are still not enough against consistency.
No. 2 Notre Dame delivered that lesson — after rallying from two goals down to win 5-3, extending Penn State’s winless streak to six games.
“We came out hard,” junior forward Andrew Sturtz said, referring. “But the game’s 60 minutes and we’ve got to figure out how to play a whole 60.”
Bo Brauer scored twice, including the go-ahead goal early in the third, to lead the Fighting Irish (21-5-1, 15-2 Big Ten). Dawson Cook also scored in the third and Andrew Oglevie, Andrew Peeke had the other scores.
Chase Berger scored twice, Alec Marsh once and Sturtz assisted on all of the goals for Penn State (13-12-4, 6-9-4-2).
The arena was electrified by a crowd of 6,229 — clad almost entirely in white, the second-largest in the arena’s history and the 71st straight sellout.
For the opening period, the Nittany Lions rode the emotional wave the fans provided, taking a 2-0 lead into intermission on goals from Marsh and Berger, both off offensive-zone faceoffs won by Sturtz. The team was peppering shots on Irish goalie Cale Morris, winning races for loose pucks while goalie Peyton Jones was holding firm at the other end.
“I liked everything we did at both ends of the ice,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “I thought it was one of the best periods — maybe the best period we’ve played.”
Gadowsky’s team could not play that way the whole game, however, and the steady, experienced marathon runners on the Notre Dame side eventually passed the sprinting Nittany Lions.
“There was a lot that we did well,” Gadowsky said. “But we didn’t sustain it. The challenge is to continue to play our game and keep the pedal down. It’s easy to say, I get it, but that’s the challenge.”
Penn State has been served a few lessons like this, including in its loss to eventual national champion Denver in last year’s NCAA tournament.
The Nittany Lions got to see up close how a team can play disciplined, sticking with the game plan, not getting rattled by an early deficit or getting intimidated by a raucous crowd.
“Our team’s been pretty good this year dealing with all different types of situations,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “As long as I stay calm — that’s the bigger challenge for me to try to stay calm in those situations. The guys are pretty composed and they respond to those things when they happen.”
Eventually, there were cracks, helping Notre Dame score twice in the second period to tie the game. Berger scored again and there was another surge of momentum, but Brauer found the net with a little under three minutes remaining in the second period.
The game was knotted at 3-3 at the second intermission, and the experienced, steady team appeared better prepared to handle the final 20 minutes.
“You can’t be really good for three-quarters of a game,” Berger said. “Good teams are going to capitalize like that. I guess they showed us, if you want to beat them, you’ve got to beat them for 60 minutes and not three-fourths of the game.”
A couple breakdowns led to more chances for the Irish, and Jones faltered in the third. He made 32 saves but would certainly like a few of those scores back.
His counterpart was, like the rest of his team, steady. Morris gave up the early goals and withstood 51 shots, but gave his team a chance.
When the teams battle again at 4 p.m. Saturday, Gadowsky is hoping his team saw that consistency in the end beats out bursts of brilliance.
“It’s very, very impressive,” Gadowsky said. “I hope we do learn lessons from teams like that.”