Penn State Hockey: Folkes Does It Again As Nittany Lions Win Game Three In Overtime
"[B]ut what’s this long face about, Mr. Starbuck; wilt thou not chase the white whale? art not game for Moby Dick?"
On the far side of Guy Gadowsky's office there is a massive photo of Penn State defending in its own zone, a moment in time meant to capture the program at its best. The building is packed, the ice looks fresh as the sun bounces off it through the far concourse windows, the uniforms are clean.
Everything is perfect.
You notice it immediately as you enter the room and it's hard not to look at it sprawling across the wall meant to be one of many first impressions of what Penn State has to offer, all in the name of swaying recruits.
And for the longest time Gadowsky never really looked at the photo. He just noticed it the same way he notices much of the branding around the building. You see it, but you don't see it.
Then one day someone told him about what they noticed it really was a picture of. What he had missed all those times walking past.
If you look closely the referee has his arm raised, the opposing goalie in the background is skating off the ice as a teammate prepares to jump on for an extra attacker.
Penn State is taking a penalty.
The marquee photo is the home team making a mistake.
For all of its success, Penn State hockey has been chasing that moment at home, one it can frame and put on the wall and enjoy for years. Much of the program's greatest successes have happened away from State College. Liam Folkes won the Big Ten Tournament in an empty building in Detroit. Penn State scored 10 goals on Union in Cincinnati. A victory over Top 5 UMass Lowell happened away from home. There have been firsts and important victories, moments that fans can recall but real moments, ones that don't fade into the tapestry of history, have alluded Penn State at Pegula.
The Nittany Lions have come close before but have always come up short. Casey Bailey's third-period hat trick against Ohio State to help erase a four-goal deficit ended with an overtime loss. A close game against highly ranked Union turned in the final seconds. An overtime winner against Minnesota was forgettable for those not there. Many of the early seasons were full of close-and-yet-so-far situations.
In 2017 it nearly happened, a Denis Smirnov penalty shot against Minnesota in the game's final minutes was a pending victory that would have assured Penn State its first NCAA Tournament berth. It was a highlight to be put on videos forever, photos of Smirnov diving into his bench and teammates arms to be hung in the lobby for as long as the building still stood. All the while Pegula going wild around them.
But then Minnesota tied the game in the final seconds, and not long into overtime the Gophers won. It was a gut punch to the program and it was a moment lost forever.
So as Liam Folkes slammed home the puck halfway through overtime on Sunday night, it not only gave Penn State a 4-3, Game 3 win over Wisconsin and a ticket to the Big Ten Semifinals, it gave the program a moment -finally- at home. One that can transcend the meaningful but otherwise forgettable victories, a moment with true meaning.
It was a feat well earned, after an underwhelming performance on Friday and a blowout victory on Saturday, a Game 3 meeting with Wisconsin was do-or-die. Win and advance, lose and go home for the year, there would be no NCAA Tournament.
Trailing 3-2 in the waning minutes of the second period, Alex Limoges' fifth goal of the series tied the game, and suddenly Penn State had life. An earlier 2-1 lead had evaporated in just 24 seconds as Wisconsin pounced on a power play chance and a great shot through traffic. After nearly 40 minutes of positive play, the Nittany Lions were on the back skate and the moment was dimming by the second.
Neither team would score in the third, both with their chances but neither blinking. Peyton Jones made 36 saves, his Wisconsin counterpart Daniel Lebedeff made 46. There were 40 total blocked shots between the two teams, 4-on-1s in both directions, penalties and no-calls.
There was everything, plenty to remember. But remember how?
In overtime the staring contest continued until Folkes found himself wide open in front of Wisconsin's net. Two years removed from his Big Ten Tournament winner against the Badgers, the junior struck gold yet again.
"He has ice in his veins," Jones would say later.
"I just like the playoffs," Folkes added with a smile, a nine point weekend hard to argue with.
As he rushed towards the boards and his teammates swarmed him the building roared as loud as it ever has. This was a moment, this was something to keep forever.
It was important for the season itself, something to hang the hat on. The Nittany Lions' 21 wins are tied for the second most in the program's history. Limoges' 22 goals are tied for the most in a single-season by a Penn State player, his 48-point a new record. The Nittany Lions have scored more goals this year than ever before.
But they face an uphill battle as the path to the postseason will require winning the Big Ten Tournament. It's not impossible, but a tall order, especially given this team's propensity for inconsistency.
In the five years of the Big Ten (hockey) conference's existence, five different programs have won the tournament, and a trip to Columbus to face top-seeded Ohio State is far from a simple ask, let alone a date with either Notre Dame or Minnesota afterwards.
So success is hard to gauge. In terms of results on the ice, Penn State has not put up an underwhelming season. In terms of postseason opportunities, the program is likely to find itself coming up short.
In turn, the Nittany Lions now approach a moment when they will have to try to decide what a "good" year is defined as. More importantly, what good seasons aren't. Each season up to this point has been fairly straightforward in its gains, only now does a potential step backwards loom in the future.
How do you define coming up short for a program that never has? At least relative to its own short history.
"We have three more wins and more conference wins than we did last year and we're still not in the tournament. We talked in the summer about where our head is at and what we define as taking steps," Gadowsky said after the game. "You got the tournament twice [in a row] and that seems like a pretty good [high] watermark and it's tough when that happens to almost define your success or not with that..."
Gadowsky's voice trailed off.
"But...you know...let's give us a little more time [to answer that] we're still going."
In the bigger picture, even if Penn State finds itself traveling to Allentown for the NCAA Tournament again, Gadowsky and his program will have caught that white whale, they will have a moment at home. One that won't be forgotten, one that won't be ruined, one that programs are built on, one that success is measured by.
One fit for the wall.