After playing Michigan and Michigan State tough in the last two home series, the Penn State men’s hockey team looked to continue its hot streak at home against No. 5 Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions got plenty of offensive chances, but couldn’t overcome the stellar play of Badgers goaltender Joel Rumpel, as Wisconsin defeated Penn State 4-2.
It didn’t take long for the Badgers to get on the board in the first. Penn State’s Casey Bailey took a slashing penalty just three minutes into the game, and Wisconsin was able to capitalize on the man-advantage. Michael Mersch scored off his own rebound in front of the goal and the Badgers jumped out to a quick one-score lead. Ten minutes later, Tyler Barnes shot one past Penn State’s P.J. Musico to double the lead.
“They came prepared to play, to execute, and to compete, and we didn’t,” said head coach Guy Gadowsky after the game. “I’m disappointed that we came out as flat as we did, and we were unprepared to battle and execute.”
Despite having three breakaway opportunities, Penn State’s offense couldn’t take the momentum from the Badgers. The visiting team netted a crucial third goal halfway through the second period when Nik Kerdiles scored on a delayed penalty, and Wisconsin seemed to take an insurmountable 3-0 lead. But the Nittany Lions’ trademark is toughness according to Wisconsin’s head coach Mike Eaves, and Penn State continued to battle.
“Even in the second period [down 3-0], I thought Penn State did a good job of saying ‘Hey, this game isn’t over. We’re still here, and we’re playing,'” Eaves said. “If I’m coach Gadowsky, that’s what I want. This is the way they’ve played all year. They give themselves a chance to be successful because they play hard for 60 minutes.”
The Nittany Lions certainly did play hard, and its intensity and persistence eventually paid off. With eight minutes remaining in the third, Penn State finally got on the scoreboard. Dylan Richard made a long cross-ice pass to Casey Bailey, who wristed it past Rumpel for his eighth goal of the year. Taylor Holstrom added another for the Nittany Lions with one minute left in the game, but Wisconsin scored an empty netter to ice the 4-2 victory.
Holstrom was disappointed about Friday’s performance after the game, but was optimistic for Saturday’s series finale. “[We have to] refocus,” Holstrom said. “We came out slow, kind of watching and seeing what they were going to do. I think, after playing them in our own rink and seeing how they played, we’re definitely going to come out with a bigger hop in our step tomorrow.”
The two teams will play again on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Pegula Ice Arena. The game will be broadcast on BTN2Go.
- 3 stars: 3rd star — Casey Bailey (PSU), one goal on 5 shots. 2nd star — Mark Zengerie (Wisc), one EN goal, 3 assists. 1st star — Nic Kerdiles (Wisc), one goal, 3 assists.
- Quick stats: Shots — Penn State 26, Wisconsin 34. Penalties — Penn State 6, Wisconsin 5. Faceoffs — Penn State 31, Wisconsin 32. Announced attendance — 6,015.
- Goaltender P.J. Musico got his first home start of the year, and played one of the best games of the year for any Nittany Lion goaltender. Despite allowing three goals, there were many times that he bailed out a defensive unit that didn’t play its best game. With Friday’s performance, combined with a strong start against No. 1 Minnesota last week, look for Musico to get at least one more start in this season’s final three games.
- Defensemen Nate Jensen and Luke Juha both missed the game with concussions suffered during the Michigan series three weeks ago. This is the 7th straight game that the pair has missed.
- The Roar Zone, the student section for hockey games, was filled designated general admission for this series, but Gadowsky was quick to deflect the absence of support as the reason for the teams’ slow start. Said Gadowsky: “We love the student body. They really, really help us. But at the same time, we can’t rely on them. They’re fantastic and get us going for sure, but it’s not fair to rely on them.”