The Penn State Nittany Lions men’s hockey team played a two-game series against the Air Force Falcons this weekend on home ice, splitting the series in what was a big test in their first ever Division I season. It was a true tale of two games, as Penn State lost 5-1 on Friday, but won by that same score on Saturday.
Surprisingly enough, the score is a bit misleading, as both coaches agreed each night that the loser played the better game. Air Force head coach Frank Serratore was furious with his team after Friday night’s game despite winning 5-1, saying that Penn State “deserved a better fate” and that “if we play like that ever again, we have a better chance of winning the PowerBall than another hockey game.”
While Serratore called the Friday game a “slopfest,” he felt that his team played a much more fundamentally sound game on Saturday and didn’t take issue with his team’s play, as the score was slightly skewed by two Penn State empty net goals in the last few minutes. Nittany Lions head coach Guy Gadowsky was pleased with the effort both nights against a very good Air Force program, ending the weekend on a high note before heading into a two-week hiatus before their next game.
Air Force got that important first score on Friday night, as forward Casey Kleisenger, driving to the goal, snuck an easy wrist shot into the right side of the goal. Penn State had a chance to even it up soon after, drawing an interference penalty, but in what would be a theme throughout the night, the power play was fairly unproductive.
Halfway through the second period, Air Force’s Cole Gunner put a quick turn-around pass across the slot to Kyle De Laurell who netted the puck as Penn State goalie P.J. Musico could only turn and watch, putting AFA up 2-0. Again, the Nittany Lions got a chance to counter the score, drawing an interference penalty on De Laurell, their fourth power play of the game – but it also became Air Force’s fourth successful penalty kill of the game, thanks mostly to the play of their goalie, Jason Torf, who was incredible all night.
Late in the second period, Penn State got what was by far their best chance of the game. Michael Longo controlled a pass at the top of the left circle, found an open lane, and put a slapshot across the net. Unfortunately for Longo, Torf was able to go “from New York to Los Angeles” as Serratorre put it, barely snatching the puck in his glove to steal what looked like a sure goal.
Soon after, Air Force forward John Krus found himself wide open in the slot and flipped the puck into the top of the net to help his team pull ahead 3-0 despite some very sloppy play and a slew of penalties throughout the game.
At the 11:30 mark in the third period, Penn State junior Justin Kirchhevel took off on a breakaway despite an Air Force power play and put an easy wrister over Jason Torf’s shoulder to cut the Air Force lead to 3-1, pumping up the crowd ending what looked to be a potential shutout the way Torf was playing.
But the momentum didn’t last long. Any hockey fan knows that your best chance to get a goal usually comes within a minute or two after the last one you scored, but Air Force wasn’t going to let that happen.
Still on the power play, Air Force’s Stephen Carew just threw a puck at the net into traffic and it somehow found its way through Musico’s legs in what should have been an easy save. One more empty net goal for the Falcons ended the scoring for the night, handing Musico his first loss after four wins to open the season, a tough one to swallow for Penn State after playing a very tough game and going 0-for-6 on the power play.
Saturday night opened up very slowly, with Air Force holding Penn State shotless for the first 11 minutes. But with just a few minutes remaining in the first period, the Nittany Lions made it onto the scoreboard. Max Gardiner, who had three assists on the night, put a no-look pass into the crease for Casey Bailey, who put the puck five-hole for the score on a very pretty play.
With 13 minutes left in the second, Penn State’s Luke Juha was on the top of the left circle with on open lane on the goal, reminiscent of Longo’s slap shot in the first game that was robbed, but Juha wouldn’t have the same fate. He put a slapshot gloveside, top of the net to put Penn State ahead 2-0 with his first goal of the year.
Early in the third, Air Force was unable to score on a power play, but scored just after it expired. Kleisenger put a backhanded shot gloveside in the slot to cut the Penn State led to 2-1 with 17 minutes to go in the third period.
Eight minutes later, with 9:22 to go in the third period, David Glen scored on a deflection from the point to put Penn State ahead 3-1. Two empty net goals later, Penn State was ahead 5-1 and the score was reversed from Friday night.
It was truly a tale of two games. On Friday night, Penn State outshot Air Force 35-24 and had six power play opportunities, usually a formula for victory, but the scoreboard would imply that they got blown out, mostly thanks to Jason Torf’s stellar goaltending.
Saturday night was a mirror image, with Air Force taking the shot advantage 32-25 and getting five power play chances, but falling victim to Penn State’s Matthew Skoff, who was impenetrable – well, almost impenetrable – in the goal.
Penn State is now 6-3-0 in their first Division I season, playing some impressive hockey despite being a club hockey team last year. They have a two-week break before heading to Schenectady, New York on November 24th for a two-game series against Union.