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Penn State Hockey: Nittany Lions Finish Historic Season With 6-3 Loss To No. 1 Denver

by on March 26, 2017 10:00 PM

CINCINNATI, Ohio.  

It was hard to know for sure what to expect from Penn State on Sunday night as the Nittany Lions took the ice against No.1 Denver.

On the one hand Penn State has spent the past two weeks overcoming slightly ridiculous odds. Three games in three days including back-to-back double-overtime victories. It wasn't as though anything was coming easy, and yet the Nittany Lions were coming out on top, so one more incredible moment didn't seem too far fetched.

Equally true, Denver's dominance against just about every team it has faced. A now 31-7-4 record and Frozen Four berth is hardly unexpected, and by all estimations the Pioneers are the favorites to finish off their domination with an NCAA title. This would be Penn State's toughest test, coming while the team was the hottest, but also the most battered and bruised.

So which would prevail? The upstart Nittany Lions looking to pull off another shocker, or a Denver team that would do what it has done all season?

The answer turned out to be a bit of both.

Jarid Lukosevicius opened the scoring just 3:17 into the game as he navigated a small window, finessing his way past Peyton Jones and finding the back of the net. Denver's early lead a bad sign for the upset hopeful Nittany Lions.

The signs didn't get much better four minutes later as Adam Plant blasted home a shot from the point, Denver smothering Penn State's with a relentless forecheck. Not long into the game it looked at though it was nearly over.

It felt that way for much of the first period until Penn State did what it has done so well all year, jumping on a chance and taking it. This time in form of Ricky DeRosa and Nikita Pavlychev on a 2-on-1, the Russian native punching home the puck on a rebound opportunity.

Suddenly it didn't seem so impossible, something that became abundantly clear as Denis Smirnov sneaked the puck past Tanner Jaillet two minutes into the second period. The Nittany Lions going from the rope to the center of the ring in a matter of moments.

And Penn State nearly punched back, but two straight shorthanded opportunities failed to hit the net and rushing the other way Denver found just enough time and space for Troy Terry to put the Pioneers up 3-2.

Nine minutes later it was Lukosevicius again following a slick pass from Terry and the nation's No.1 defense was looking to protect a two-goal lead.

Even so, Penn State continued to press and nearly found the net on a few occasions but it was Terry that put Denver on the scoreboard again, leading 5-2 after two periods.

The rest was largely a formality. Penn State would strike with seven minutes to play but Denver's stout defense gave Penn State little space to work with and even fewer good chances on goal. By the time the empty net tally came Penn State was alive in theory only, Denver far too good to let a Frozen Four berth slip away.

For Penn State, the loss marks the conclusion of an unexpected but historic season. The Nittany Lions end the 2016-17 campaign at 25-12-2 with a Big Ten Tournament title and a program-first NCAA Tournament appearance and first round victory.

But if anything, Penn State proved that on the biggest stage that it could succeed and against the nation's best, and that it isn't too far off from holding its own for a full 60 minutes.

And that, in year five of a program existing on the planet, is a much more important victory.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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Penn State Hockey: Sunday Night A Good Measuring Stick As Nittany Lions Face No. 1 Denver
March 26, 2017 11:00 AM
by Ben Jones
Penn State Hockey: Sunday Night A Good Measuring Stick As Nittany Lions Face No. 1 Denver
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