Penn State men’s hockey (6-5-0) played a two-game exhibition series against the Arizona State Sun Devils (18-0-0) this weekend. Arizona State is undefeated and ranked first overall in the American Collegiate Hockey Association, which Penn State graduated from after making the move up to NCAA Division I play this season.
It was a tale of two games, as Penn State crushed Arizona State on Friday night by a score of 8-3. The Sun Devils took a 1-0 lead early, but the Nittany Lions scored the next four goals and the game was all theirs from that point forward. Arizona State took a 1-0 lead again last night, but the Penn State offense was stagnant all game and they fell by a score of 3-1, seemingly overlooking a very strong Sun Devils club hockey team.
Penn State had Matthew Skoff in goal Friday night. Skoff is nearly unbeatable at his best, but he has struggled trying to find that rhythm on a game-to-game basis. The Nittany Lions came out of the gate looking flat on Friday, generating little offense, failing to execute crisp passes, and struggling on defense. It looked as though the team was expectiing to sleepwalk through a game against a club team despite being just one year removed from the ACHA themselves.
With 7:40 to go in the first period, ASU’s Dan Styrna netted a puck to put the Sun Devils ahead 1-0 early in the game. Penn State had a chance to answer on a power play just a few minutes later, and answer they did. Ryan McDonagh skated just past Arizona State goalie John D’Elia and put a pass across the net for Luke Juha with nothing but white ice and the back of the net in front of him to knot up the score.
Despite sloppy play, Penn State had to be happy walking away from the first 20 minutes with an even scoreboard. Soon after the start of the second period, the Nittany Lions were running up the score. Tommy Olcyzk netted a garbage goal after D’Elia couldn’t control a save to make it 2-1. Soon after, Kenny Brooks made a great move coming around the back of the net as he managed to maintain control of the puck and put it in the goal to go up 3-1.
With 14:29 remaining in the second, David Glen took a shot from the right wing that found twine to make it 4-1 in favor of Penn State. D’Elia made his way off of the ice and was replaced by Kyle Dietrich, but the bleeding did not stop. Dietrich let in four goals of his own as Penn State went on to win 8-3.
Glen scored three goals on the night and picked up the first hat trick of the season, though the score and stats do not count as it was exhibition game. Penn State outshot Arizona State by a margin of 52 to 27, and converted all three of their power play opportunities, a sure formula for victory. The game looked like exactly what it was — a matchup between a Division I hockey team and a club hockey team.
But Penn State seemed to let the 8-3 win get to their heads, and they came out Saturday night overlooking an opponent that did not play as poorly as the final score implied on Friday. The Nittany Lions came out strong on Saturday, playing much better early in the first period than they had on Friday, but the sustained offense that they generated early was short-lived and the team quickly went flat.
The first penalty of the game was on Arizona State after one of their players took out Penn State goalie P.J. Musico who rushed out of the net to control a puck. Soon after, a checking-from-behind was called on ASU and Penn State had almost a minute of 5-on-3 hockey but failed to capitalize on that power play and had the same luck on another late in the first period, which ended scoreless. The Nittany Lions looked good early in the period, but quickly slowed down and the Sun Devils defense took control of the game.
Arizona State put the first goal on the scoreboard less than a minute into the second period. On a two-on-two rush, Faiz Khan collected a pass from Dan Styrna in the slot and found the back of the net from close range. Penn State answered with a slew of goals after going down 1-0 on Friday, but that wouldn’t be the case in this game.
Early in the third period, ASU’s Kale Dolinski put a puck right through Musico’s legs for a five-hole goal to go ahead 2-0, which might as well have been 10-0 the way that Penn State’s offense had looked to that point in the game.
A Penn State penalty soon after gave the Sun Devils a chance to put the game away, but the Nittany Lions were not going down without a fight to a club hockey team. Nearing the midway point in the third and short a man, Olczyk carried the puck into the offensive zone, looking for a shot as he neared the goal. He saw an uncovered Curtis Loik behind him and flipped the puck back to Loik who netted a sweet one-timer goal to cut the ASU lead to 2-1.
Luke Juha looked to knot up the score just two minutes later, netting a shot from the top of the left circle. The crowd went from a loud cheer to a loud boo as the ref called off the goal because of a hand pass that did appear to be the correct call.
The momentum did not stop there as Penn State had another great opportunity. A couple of shots on goal were pushed back before one finally made it past D’Elia and hit the inside of the left post. It looked to be a sure goal but the puck took a bad bounce out of the goal — just mere centimeters to the right and it would have been a tie game.
ASU’s Dolinski found himself on a breakaway just a couple minutes later and almost lost control of the puck as he was challenged from behind by a Penn State defender. Dolinski began to trip but managed to slip the puck into the right side of the net for a dagger goal that put the Sun Devils ahead 3-1, where the score would stay until the final horn.
Penn State finished the game with a 37-to-30 shot advantage, but the numbers were misleading. The Nittany Lions failed to get good looks and were stymied by a great ASU trap defense from the second period forward. They forced desperation shots from outside of the slot and failed to find good shooting lanes on the vast majority of those 37 shots.
The Nittany Lions simply seemed to be unprepared on Saturday night and it showed. In what should have been an easy sweep of a club hockey team in an exhibition series, Penn State walks away with some soul-searching to do. Coach Guy Gadowsky said that he will give the players off until Wednesday to think things over, but when they get back to work he hopes to see that they are ready to play better hockey than they did this weekend.