The fans in blue and white howled and slapped their palms against the glass as No. 19 Penn State men’s hockey took the ice against Michigan State for both teams’ first Big Ten matchup of the season.
The Nittany Lions (9-2-3, 1-0-0-0) gave the roaring, pounding crowd what it wanted, starting fast and physical, adding a four-goal second frame, and capping the 4-2 win over the Spartans (4-8-2, 0-1-0-0) on Saturday night in Pegula Ice Arena.
“No. 1, I just thought the Roar Zone was just tremendous, right from the start,” said head coach Guy Gadowsky after the game. “Right from when we dropped the puck, they were awesome and that was certainly helpful in getting us going.”
Right winger Andrew Sturtz fed off the tangible energy himself, leading Penn State with two goals on seven shots and an assist.
He came into the postgame press conference grinning and chuckling to himself; a self-described “happy guy” who said he never stops smiling — as long as the team wins.
“I just love watching Andrew Sturtz’s heart,” said Gadowsky. “Just watching that guy’s heart is awesome.”
Mathew Skoff stayed cool in the net with 31 saves. His highlight of the night came courtesy of a crucial save in the second period that Gadowsky didn’t think Skoff could keep from hitting the net.
“The play, the puck went across the crease and I couldn’t really see what happened and I thought he must’ve missed,” said the head coach. “I heard the Roar Zone and they sounded like something really special had happened so I watched it after the period and it was just an unbelievable save. Wide open net, and Skoff somehow got back to save it. I don’t know how, but it was awesome.”
Sturtz found the net 10 seconds into the second period through Jake Hildebrand’s legs. It was the fastest period-opening goal in team history.
Penn State kept the pressure on goal, peppering Hildebrand with 14 more shots to open the second, before netting another with 7:15 to play.
Travis Walsh got whistled for cross-checking, and David Goodwin slid in the goal during the resulting power play, assisted by Kenny Brooks and Luke Juha, for a 2-0 lead and Goodwin’s fourth of the season.
Sturtz followed with another off a loose puck, during which he flat out out-skated two defensemen to tap in Penn State’s third goal of the night, and his eighth of the season.
“I think (the puck) touched their (defenseman’s) stick, then my stick, then their stick, then mine, then (I) popped through and came in on Hildebrand, made a couple quick moves, found a spot along the ice, just forehand-side, and yeah,” said Sturtz, grin cracking across his face.
“Felt pretty good, scoring on him like that.”
Vince Pedrie cleaned up his own loose puck just a minute later for Penn State’s fourth and his second of the season.
The Nittany Lions final three goals came within a 4:09 span.
Skoff navigated a scrum of his own with about two minutes left in the frame and slapped out a would-be Spartans’ score as Brooks toppled over his back in the process.
Michigan State opened the third period with Ed Minney guarding the goal instead of Hildebrand.
“Honestly, I don’t think it was anything he did in particular,” said Skoff of his opposing goalie’s performance. “I mean, we buried our chances. We’re a good team. That being said. I know he’s going to come out and have a strong performance tomorrow. As good as he plays, as soon as he makes mistakes we need to jump on it and take advantage right away.”
Penn State killed its 16th straight power play in the third, highlighted by a stick block by Ricky DeRosa that snapped his hardware but assisted in the kill.
Michigan State’s Thomas Ebbing snuck a puck by Skoff for the goaltender’s first miss in 27 shots and Penn State’s first goal-against in almost 179 minutes. The Spartans added another score with 18 seconds to play, off the stick of Ryan Keller.
“I think we sort of got it taken to us in the third,” said Gadowsky. “Give them a lot of credit, maybe we were hoping they’d give up, they sure didn’t. They took it to us. I think we couldn’t really handle them on the wall in the third and they just outplayed us.”
Penn State will host Michigan State again at 3 p.m. Saturday.