That's All Folkes, Penn State Hockey Win Big Ten Tournament In Double OT Against Wisconsin
On paper there is no reasonable explanation for what happened Saturday night as Penn State beat Wisconsin 2-1 in double overtime to claim the Big Ten Tournament title.
Why? Consider this.
In the span of roughly 51 hours Penn State had played the equivalent of four hockey games, back-to-back nights of double-overtime thrillers against the top two seeds in the Big Ten tournament. Nearly 100 more minutes of hockey in that span than Wisconsin, a team that needed a win to make the NCAA Tournament. By the time Saturday came, let alone the second overtime, Penn State had far less to prove and in a sense, far less to play for.
That alone would have been enough to excuse the eventual loss Penn State could have taken against a team it beat three times in four meetings this year. Less to prove, tired legs, plenty of reason to just get beat. That moment seemed favored to prevail.
But that moment never came.
It would have been one thing if Wisconsin played poorly and had limited opportunities, but that was far from the case. Penn State's victory was backstopped by a career-defining performance from goalie Peyton Jones, denying 51 shots, each seemingly the difference between winning and losing. Three days of high stakes moments, just five goals, and none in over 50 minutes of instant-death hockey.
Not convinced yet?
Look to Liam Folkes, a player who saw the ice just once in Penn State's final seven regular season games, suddenly lighting on fire in Detroit. The freshman scored against Minnesota and then twice on Saturday night including a game-winning breakaway in the second overtime period. Beyond Folkes it was Erik Autio scoring the game-winning goal against Minnesota that got the Nittany Lions to Saturday in the first place. On a team full of explosive firepower, it was some of the most overlooked players making some of the most memorable plays.
Or even just the fact Penn State won on a breakaway, something the Nittany Lions (and in fairness most of college hockey) has struggled with.
All of it, simply unbelievable. Historic goalkeeping, unexpected heroes and a nearly impossible physical and mental demand to even have a chance.
But maybe it's fitting, Penn State hockey's success has been in many ways equally as unexpected. The Nittany Lions were always going to succeed eventually, but hardly anyone expected it to happen so quickly. There was every reason to assume success would come for a program with everything at its disposal, but every reason to assume that it would be somewhere down the road.
"I'm glad we got to play them before they're really good," A coach once said following a loss to Penn State during the Nittany Lions' first season at the Division I level.
And now, five years after hitting the ice for the first time Penn State hockey can say that it is in fact "really good." The Nittany Lions are Big Ten Tournament champions with 24 wins on the year and a Top 10 finish in the PairWise to go with a first-ever NCAA Tournament bid.
What happens next is anyone's guess, but if Penn State's early success isn't proof that anything is possible, the Nittany Lions getting through the last three days 3-0 -- and how they did it -- ought to be reason enough to stop guessing in the first place.