In its opening game of Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Classic tournament, No. 14 Penn State men’s hockey (11-3-3) dropped its first loss since October to an impressive club in Robert Morris (10-4-3). A mixture of exciting back-and-forth odd-man rushes plus a thrilling late comeback bid by the Lions made this game a nail-biter to the end, but it was the Colonials who came out on top 6-4.
How It Happened
The opening period began with Penn State controlling play in the Colonials’ defensive zone and sending a ton of shots at the net. The Nittany Lions (unsurpsingly) led the shots-on-goal tally 7-0 within the first few minutes, but Robert Morris stormed back with a vengeance and created a couple of breakaway scoring chances. The Colonials’ relentless effort quickly came through as junior forward Daniel Leavens flung a well-aimed puck past Eamon McAdam, giving his team the go-ahead 1-0 lead. Through the middle of the period, a pair of penalties against each team became the perfect catalyst for offensive pressure for Penn State. The Nittany Lions’ special teams was relentless on the powerplay, peppering the net with solid shots for the full two minutes. Though they had a huge number of scoring opportunities, the Lions couldn’t break down goalie Terry Shafer and entered the locker rooms visibly frustrated, down 1-0 to Robert Morris.
Second period play started with a quick Nittany Lions’ penalty on Kenny Brooks, but it made no difference for Eric Scheid. Seconds after Brooks made his way to the box, Scheid buried a short-handed rocket passed the Colonials’ net-minder and tied the game up at one goal apiece. But Robert Morris took advantage of the early hooking penalty as well, earning back the Colonials’ one-goal lead. At the 12-minute mark, a chippy rebound goal ricocheted off the right post and into McAdam’s net, and the Colonials gained further separation at 3-1. A lot of back-and-forth odd-man rushes interchanged between Penn State and Robert Morris, but the Colonials were the lucky ones in the constant duel. Brando Denham slipped an easy puck past McAdam on a two-on-one advantage, and Robert Morris built its lead up to three. Penn State was dominating shots at 39-20 by the end of the second period, but even with its unrelenting pressure in front of Robert Morris’ net, Terry Shafer remained a brick wall and kept all of the Nittany Lions’ chances out of the net. The Colonials were sitting pretty as the remainder of the period came to an end.
A lot of anxious gameplay found its climax with Luke Juha’s next goal from the right point. The tally breathed much-needed new life into Penn State as it picked up its pace. At the 8:03 mark, Curtis Loik found a tiny seam with the help of David Thompson and Kenny Brooks and ripped a shot off the post, off Shafer, and then in to bring the Nittany Lions back within one. The travelling Nittany Nation faithful erupted, and CONSOL Energy Center was rocking with “We Are!” chants. That celebration was cut short thanks to Robert Morris’ Zac Lynch’s diving rebound goal to give the Colonials a 5-3 lead with seven minutes left in regulation. In a last ditch effort, the Nittany Lions’ comeback bid fell short and Robert Morris spoiled Penn State’s opening game at Pittsburgh’s Three River Classic with a score of 6-4.
Player Of The Game
Luke Juha | Defenseman | Senior
Juha was responsible for dragging his team out of a period-long rut without a score. His lightning-fast goal propelled the Lions to regain their familiar attack-style offense we all know so well, and was arguably the turning point in the third period. Though his efforts fell short, Juha’s goal boosted the Penn State forwards’ confidence and led to the team’s following two goals. Without his perseverance, the final tally could have looked a lot uglier.
Penn State will face off against the Clarkson Golden Knights in the consolation game of the Three Rivers Classic back in Pittsburgh’s CONSOL Energy Center Tuesday, December 29 at 4:30 p.m.