Now the Penn State men’s hockey team is really in a quandary between the pipes.
The Nittany Lions have three goalies, and no clear No. 1.
Matthew Skoff started early in the season with impressive results, but has struggled recently. After waiting patiently the first few months of the season, Eamon McAdam was outstanding when he finally got to hit the ice, but he too has struggled in his last few starts.
After making four relief appearances for McAdam or Skoff, including a pair of efforts that led to a win and tie in recent weeks, P.J. Musico got to make his first start last Saturday.
He made 33 saves and earned the win in a 4-2 triumph over then-No. 14 Vermont at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center.
“He absolutely deserved that start,” coach Guy Gadowsky said Tuesday.
That outcome led to Gadowsky naming Musico the starter for Friday, when the Nittany Lions (13-7-4, 5-2-1 Big Ten) return to conference play by hosting Wisconsin (2-16-4, 0-6-2) at 6:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday.
The senior is taking the goalie carousel in stride.
“I’m a pretty big day-to-day guy,” Musico said. “Trying to just focus on what you can control at that moment, making sure you’re always trying to get better each day and whenever you do get that nod you’ve got to be ready.”
Musico leads the trio in both goals-against average (2.23) and save percentage (.926), but his priority, whoever is the one in goal each night, to help the team keep playing deep into March, and even April.
“At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter who’s playing in net,” Musico said. “As long as the team’s playing a good game and we’re winning, we’re all happy, all three of us, for whoever’s in net.”
Top goalie overshadowed
Wisconsin may be struggling this season, with a lineup heavy with freshmen, but giving the Badgers a chance every night is goalie Joel Rumpel.
The senior has done all he can to give Wisconsin a chance, with a 3.80 goals-against average as the Badgers have seen 250 more shots on their goalies than they have attempted.
“He’s an incredible goalie — really talented,” Musico said. “He makes some saves that he really has no business making.”
Gadowsky also pointed out that, as long as Wisconsin has Rumpel in goal, the team has a chance to win every game. He specifically pointed to a game in early January when No. 5 Michigan Tech outshot the Badgers 47-19, but Rumpel stopped every shot for his 10th career shutout and a 2-0 win.
“He’s still Joel Rumpel,” Gadowsky said. “He’s still phenomenal. He hasn’t gotten the support in front of him that he has last year that he had with a tremendous team that they had, but he’s made some tremendous saves and played some great games. It’s a scary team.”
Last season, Rumpel was one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award for the nation’s best player and one of five finalists for the Mike Richter Award for the nation’s top goaltender.
Musico, who has known Rumpel for years since their days playing junior hockey in British Columbia, felt bad his friend was experiencing such a tough season.
“It’s tough to see the situation that he’s in,” Musico said. “But I’ve also been there on teams in that same situation. He’s still winning games.”
Thompson third star
David Thompson earned the third of the Big Ten’s weekly three stars Tuesday. The sophomore defenseman scored the game-winning goal, and the first of his college career, against the Catamounts. He also finished the game with a plus-3 rating.
Thompson has earned a point in each of the Lions’ last three games.
Wisconsin will be without Corbin McGuire for Friday’s game after the freshman forward was suspended by the Big Ten for one game for his hit on Minnesota’s Connor Reilly last weekend.
McGuire was given a five-minute major, but no misconduct penalty, for kneeing the Golden Gophers’ leading scorer, who is out indefinitely with a lower body injury. McGuire later scored the winning goal in a shootout.
Wise to Pairwise
With this season’s success, the Nittany Lions are starting to watch the scoreboards, check the Big Ten standings and the national rankings.
One of the top predictors of who is in the running for one of the 16 spots available for the NCAA Tournament, much like RPI ratings in other sports, is the Pairwise rankings on the U.S. College Hockey Online. Earlier in the season, Penn State was as high as 16th, and is 22nd this week.
“We have a shot right now where we’re standing,” junior forward Eric Scheid said. “If we win a lot of games down the stretch here, we can easily slide into that (top 16), I think. From our standpoint where we sit in the standings, Pairwise makes a difference and we are really looking at it thinking we have a chance.”
Vermont is tied for that No. 16 spot with Yale, and Michigan is the lone Big Ten team among the top 16, at No. 14.