Andrew Sturtz figured his rooting section was about 78 people strong on Saturday night.
It was just pure luck it was a short, easy drive for them all to see him make his college hockey debut.
Penn State played its season opener at Canisius, winning 6-1 at the HorborCenter in downtown Buffalo.
Even though Sturtz didn’t score, which would have provided the storybook finish to the weekend, he still got to give everyone a thrill. Almost an entire section of the arena was dedicated to the Nittany Lion freshman, with some dressed in Penn State hockey jerseys and most toting signs reading “Sturtz Section #16.”
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“It was huge to have all the support there from my family and friends,” Sturtz said Monday at the team’s weekly media session.
Sturtz even knew a few players, and their families, on the Golden Griffins’ side of the ice, but he was certain everyone in his section had no divided loyalties. They were there to see the graduate of Kenmore East High School on the north side of the city.
When team members checked into their hotel — in the same building above the hockey arena made possible by Penn State graduate and benefactor Terry Pegula — Sturtz opened the curtains in the room and pointed out a number of landmarks to his roommate for the weekend, junior David Goodwin.
“I thought it was great,” Goodwin said, smiling as he watched Sturtz leave the media room knowing the freshman was hearing the comments. “I loved rooming with him. I’m going to talk to (team director of operations) Billy Downey about seeing if we can make that a thing every weekend.”
Sturtz played on the same line as Tommy Olczyk and Dylan Richard and took two shots. He also did his best to make the highlight reel with a couple no-look, behind-the-back passes, though they did not result in any scoring.
“Sometimes you see it, sometimes you don’t,” Sturtz said. “It throws the ‘D’ off a little bit. I think one of them actually landed, which is good. It’s kind of a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing.”
He also feels drawn to the Nittany Lions’ style of play, a grittiness and toughness a lot like his hometown.
“I love the tenaciousness that we play with, the heart that this program plays with,” Sturtz said. “I can’t wait to play it for four years.”
Sturtz got to play in the Oct. 4 exhibition game against Windsor, but Pegula Ice Arena wasn’t even half full. Since he was playing every weekend with his junior team the last couple years, he has never been to a full-house, full-throat Roar Zone game. He also has never played an official game in front of a crowd bigger than 1,500 fans, he said, so he is eager to see the home opener at 7 p.m. Friday against Notre Dame.
“If my family can get us fired up like that,” Sturtz said, “I can only imagine what this crowd can do.”
The Nittany Lions lost sophomore forward James Robinson early in the first period Saturday. Head coach Guy Gadowsky said it was an “upper body” injury.
“(He’s) not great,” Gadowsky said. “He’s definitely out for a few weeks, but we are not positive exactly how long yet because ... we still have to examine and X-ray.”
Gadowsky said Monday he has been enjoying the added benefit of the exhibition game against Windsor, giving the team two different opponents and styes to help prepare the team for a tough opponent like Notre Dame on Friday and Saturday.
Penn State beat Windsor 5-2, outshooting the Lancers 57-23, then dropped the Golden Griffs 6-1 with a 45-28 shot margin.
“I’m certainly glad that we had at least two games now running into a team like Notre Dame,” Gadowsky said. “That’s certainly a positive. Very happy that we had the game against Windsor. This weekend it was just good to get another one under our belt. I don’t think we actually came out as well or played as well as the statistics look.”
A year too late
Early last season, Richard had what looked like a goal that would land on highlight reels for years to come. He chipped the puck around a Holy Cross player along the boards, swooped toward the net from the corner and slipped the puck past the goalie while going airborn, almost reminiscent of a famous goal by Bobby Orr decades ago. The goal, however, was disallowed after an official review, and Richard was given a two-minute minor for goaltender interference.
“A goal of the year candidate,” Gadowsky lamented.
After further review and deliberation, that kind of goal is now legal, Gadowsky said Monday. If the contact with the goalie is outside the crease, it will not necessarily lead to a goal being disallowed. Interference in the crease, however, is still a penalty.
“At the coaches meetings,” Gadowsky said, “they actually played that and said, ‘This will now be a goal.’”