For the 16th time this year, the Nittany Lions found themselves in a game decided by one goal or less. But on Saturday, for the 10th time in those 16 games, Penn State came out on the losing end. The 3-2 overtime loss to No. 5 Wisconsin left head coach Guy Gadowsky with the same feeling he has felt so many times this season as he was frustrated after the game, which was held in honor of veterans on Military Appreciation Night.
“If this was the first time we played really well against a top five team, we’d probably be thrilled,” the coach said. “But we’ve played really well against Minnesota, Wisconsin and lost by one goal. We’ve had these experiences. I guess to take the next step is close them out. Obviously we aren’t quite there yet.”
For the second straight night, Wisconsin jumped out to an early lead. Penn State had an 8-0 shot advantage, but the Badgers’ scored on their first attempt on goal. Keegan Meuer shot it past his screening teammate, and Penn State goaltender Matt Skoff had no chance at stopping it.
It didn’t take for the Nittany Lions long to respond, however. David Glen made a no-look, backhanded pass to a waiting Casey Bailey, who blasted it into a wide open net from the left circle. A camo-clad Bailey celebrated his ninth goal of the year with a salute to the crowd, a nod to the veterans in attendance.
“I was almost nervous to miss that one,” said Bailey. “It was fun to wear [the uniforms]and support such a great cause. [The celebratory salute] was actually something we talked about before the game. We said the first guy to score should salute them. It was nice to be the guy who gets to do it.”
The teams traded penalties throughout the second period, with things coming to a head halfway through. Wisconsin’s Nic Kerdiles and Eddie Wittchow both earned roughing penalties, just six minutes apart, and Penn State earned two power plays. The home team was unable to harness the momentum after the man-advantages though, and gave up a slick shorthanded breakaway goal to Kerdiles with four minutes left in the second that put the Badgers up 2-1.
Penn State would eventually score the equalizer with less than three minutes left in the game when a puck thrown at the net by Kenny Brooks bounced off a Wisconsin defender’s skate and past goaltender Joel Rumpel, who made 41 saves on the night, barely clearing the post.
“The type of goal it was, is ‘What are you going to do,'” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. “The response of the bench was ‘Next best shift. Let’s respond.’ We’ve been through this before, and when your bench is saying that, you know you’re in a good place.”
The game went into overtime, where Kerdiles got a 2-on-1 breakaway opportunity with teammate Mark Zengerle. Zengerle was able to beat a diving Skoff to send Wisconsin back to Madison with a sweep of the Nittany Lions.
For Gadowsky and company, this may have been one of the toughest losses of the year.
“It just sort of feels this one, we worked really hard for 64 minutes and 40 seconds, and had nothing to show for it,” said the head coach. “20 seconds left in overtime. I’m not at all down or disappointed in our performance at all. I’m just, man, 20 seconds left…”
The Nittany Lions have one final home series before the Big Ten tournament. The team will take on Ohio State next Friday and Saturday at the Pegula Ice Arena.