Penn State Hockey: Nittany Lions Upset No. 10 Michigan 4-0 Saturday Night
When Terry Pegula donated over $100 million to Penn State to help create a Division I hockey program, nights like Saturday night were what he had in mind. The Nittany Lions knocked off the No. 10 ranked Michigan Wolverines 4-0 for the program's first conference victory in Big Ten play. Penn State dominated the majority of play and played a physical game backed by a raucous Pegula Ice Arena crowd of 6,170.
The Nittany Lions have seen it all this season, falling in games against some of the best teams in the nation by a single goal on seven different occasions. It's a painful way to sink to 4-18-1 but the only way the Nittany Lions have learned what it takes to play at a high level.
The Nittany Lions have had parts of all three operating at some point this season but on Saturday night it all came together as Penn State finally got over the hump. The Nittany Lions outshot their opponent for the fifth straight game while goaltender Matthew Skoff returned to action in net to turn aside 32 Michigan chances.
Penn State has fallen behind early in many games this season but turned the tables on Saturday night, scoring 5:31 into the game when Zach Saar bounced in a wide angle shot. David Glen would add a tally of his own only six minutes later to send Pegula Ice Arena into a frenzy. Casey Bailey added one final tally in the game's opening 13 minutes and Pegula Ice Arena exploded as Wolverine goaltender Zach Nagelvoort was replaced by Steve Racine.
Before the first period had even ended, fans stood on their feet cheering and clapping. The Nittany Lions headed to the locker room with a 3-0 lead. Having blown a 2-0 lead to Ohio State earlier in the year, nothing was safe with 40 minutes left to play.
Neither team would score in the second 20 minutes of play despite a pressing Michigan squad looking to get back into the game. Penn State would kill off Michigan's only man-advantage of the game with just over three minutes left in the stanza to keep the three-goal lead intact. Penn State defenseman Patrick Koudys was strong all game and several Nittany Lions delivered big hits on the glass that kept the crowd in the game.
In the third and final frame, Penn State continued to block shots and win battles in the corners preventing Michigan from ever mounting a serious attack on the Nittany Lion lead. Skoff made several keys saves in the game, but was perhaps his strongest in the final 20 minutes of play. The sight of the sophomore netminder losing his helmet and giving a forearm to a Michigan froward delighted the Penn State crowd.
Penn State would add one final goal as Ricky DeRosa redirected a blast from the blue line by David Thompson to seal the deal and a 4-0 lead with just under four minutes to go in the game. Penn State's defense continued to hound the Wolverines and preserved Skoff's shutout effort, the first of the season for the Nittany Lions. The shutout came a year to the day of Penn State's last shutout effort -- the last one also by Skoff.
In many ways, Saturday night's victory was a microcosm of Penn State's development during the season. A team that was once prone to mental errors and costly penalties played the best 60 minutes of hockey the program has ever put together. The Nittany Lions trusted each other, played with poise, and never let up. A team that once played in spurts managed to play as consistent as a coach could ask for. A team that sometimes trusted the individual more than the whole team made plays as a unit.
Who knows whether Saturday night marks a turning point? But the victory is unquestionably a major step forward in the team's development.
"For the coaching staff its makes us feel good about the players buying in to do what we do," Penn State coach Guy Gadowksy said after the game. "That what we do is going to pay off and yield a result like this. It’s the buy-in to play like this that gives a lot of confidence in what we’re doing in that the personnel we have is able to play that way."
For now, the team will enjoy the win. Penn State hockey has been trying to live up to its own hype all season -- to live up to the expectations that come with a state-of-the-art building. The Nittany Lions finally lived up to their own billing on Saturday and it's a night they won't soon forget.
"Right now, still in a little bit of awe," Froward Zach Saar said after the game. "Growing up worshiping Big Ten teams and having been to hundreds of college hockey games. Right now is a good first step."
"Our week doesn't change though. We're going back to work on Monday."