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Penn State’s Miraculous Comeback Thwarted in 5-4 Overtime Loss To Ohio State

After spending 70 days away from the friendly confines of Pegula Arena, including a stop in “The World’s Most Famous Arena” in New York City, Penn State men’s ice hockey made up for two months worth of excitement in one night for the fans of Hockey Valley.

The Nittany Lions (9-7-2, 3-2 Big Ten) erased a four-goal third period deficit against Ohio State (7-9-2, 2-2 Big Ten) on Friday night, with Casey Bailey scoring his third goal with just 21.9 seconds left in regulation to knot the score at 4-4 and send the game into overtime and the hometown crowd into a frenzy.

But the excitement was short lived. The Buckeyes’ Anthony Grecco grabbed a loose puck at center ice after Erik Autio appeared to be tripped by Ohio State’s captain Tanner Fritz, allowing Grecco to skate in unabated on backup goaltender P.J. Musico and bury the game-winner, giving the Buckeyes a stunning 5-4 win.

“It was unfortunate that the game ended on a controversial play, but the refs didn’t lose the game for us,” head coach Guy Gadowsky said. “In my mind, we lost the game in the second period when we were complacent.”

After starting the season 5-0-1 at home, it was Penn State’s first home loss, regulation or overtime, since falling 4-2 to the very same Buckeyes on March 14, 2014, a mere 301 days ago.

How it happened

Following a scoreless first period, Penn State held a 18-8 shot advantage over Ohio State, with plenty of quality chances. Following back-to-back losses to Robert Morris and Western Michigan in Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center, the Nittany Lions came roaring out of the gates to take a 6-1 shot advantage through the first four minutes of the game.

In the second period, it was more of the same for Penn State. The offense continued to put pucks on Ohio State’s Christian Frey, compiling a 25-12 shot advantage midway through the period. But the Buckeyes’ defense continued to force shots from out wide, limiting second-chance opportunities near the crease. Frey, who finished the night with 53 saves, was a crucial part of the Buckeyes defense for his ability to limit rebounds and control the puck down deep.

With just under four minutes to play in the second period, OSU’s Luke Stork opened up the scoring, collecting a shot that was initially blocked by defenseman Luke Juha and rifling it past a partially screened Matthew Skoff to give the Buckeyes a 1-0 lead. Christian Lampasso would tack on another goal with under a minute to play in the period to take a two-goal lead into the second intermission.

Needing to mount a late comeback, Penn State couldn’t have had a worse start to the final period. Stork scored his second of the game one minute into the third, forcing Gadowsky to pull Skoff in favor of Musico, who had logged just under nine minutes of ice time all season, totaling four saves. A minute and a half later, OSU’s Nick Schilkey beat Musico to build a seemingly insurmountable 4-0 lead with less than 17 minutes remaining that sent some fans heading toward the exits.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Casey Bailey, announced this week as a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey’s version of the Heisman Trophy, scored his 12th and 13th goals of the season just 69 seconds apart to breathe new life into a previously deflated Pegula crowd, cutting the Ohio State lead to 4-2 with 12 minutes to go.

Following an Ohio State timeout, Bailey’s fellow winger on the top line David Goodwin buried a pass from Luke Juha past Frey to cut the lead to one, as Penn State trailed 4-3 with 5:53 to go.

With time winding down, Gadowsky elected to pull Musico for the extra attacker, giving Bailey and company some extra ice to work with in crunch time. The move would pay off. Eric Scheid dug out the puck in the right corner and threw it off Goodwin as he raced in front of the net before eventually settling on the stick of Bailey on the left circle. The junior did the rest, beating Christian Frey with 22 ticks left to tie the score at 4-4 and blow the roof of Pegula Arena.

In overtime, it was Grecco that would dash any hope of an amazing comeback story, as the junior from Queens, NY scooped up the loose puck at center ice and wristed a shot past Musico to silence the crowd, giving the Buckeyes their second conference win of the season.

Player of the Game

Casey Bailey. In a losing effort, the Alaska native did everything but drive the Zamboni on Friday night. With Penn State trailing by four goals for the first time all season, Bailey scored his 12th, 13th, and 14th goals of the season in the game’s final 17 minutes, leading the Nittany Lions on a remarkable comeback attempt.

Following his heroic hat trick, Bailey tallied his team-leading seventh multi-point game of the season. His 14 goals puts him in a five-way tie for the most in Division 1 college hockey.

Vine(s) of the Game

The agony.

And the ecstasy.

We just wish it was in that order.

Quote(s) of the Game

Penn State lost for the third straight time, the team’s longest losing streak since dropping six in a row between Feb. 22 and March 14 last season. Coach Gadowsky was asked if this loss felt familiar to the cold, stinging losses of last season, where Penn State lost more than its fair share of close games, a trend they’ve been able to reverse this season with five of its nine wins coming by two goals or less. To his credit, the former Princeton coach came up with a peculiar, yet appropriate analogy.

“It’s like if someone wants to lose a lot of weight, then I know that I have to stay away from McDonald’s. I do a really good job, and then one day I’m driving home, I’m really hungry, I pull into it, and I have a little bit of a relapse,” Gadowsky said, describing the team’s lack of commitment to playing a complete sixty minutes. “This sort of feels like a relapse.”

On the controversial no-call that could have greatly swung the game in Penn State’s favor, Eric Scheid chose to take the high road and point to the team’s errors earlier in the game as the reason for the loss, not the zebras.

“I didn’t get a really good look at it, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter,” Scheid said. “That’s not the reason we lost. We gave up four goals early on, and we waited too long to try and get ourselves back into it. We need to get better at the start, and playing hard from when the puck drops to when the buzzer sounds.”

“It’s a tough break, but we shot ourselves in the foot early, and we can only blame ourselves.”

Takeaways

While one of the most exciting finishes in the brief history of Pegula Arena ended with a Penn State loss (to Ohio State of all teams), there are plenty of bright spots to uncover now that the collective heart rate of the arena has slowly returned to a normal resting pace.

Obviously, the three game losing streak is a negative. After an impressive showing against Wisconsin and Michigan on the road, winning three out of four games, including a sweep of the Badgers on national television, Penn State fell back down to earth with a last place finish at the Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh before returning home for the first time in over two months.

But despite the heartbreaking loss, Penn State sits tied with Michigan atop the Big Ten with nine points. This time last season, the Lions were amid a nine-game conference losing streak that began Dec. 6 and didn’t end until a 4-0 win over Michigan on Feb. 7.

Unlike last season, Penn State now has two legitimate stars in Casey Bailey and Taylor Holstrom. The duo have solidified themselves as two of the best players in the country after being named as finalists for the Hobey Baker Award this past week, and they proved why they’re worth of the nomination on Friday night. Holstrom added his 15th assist, while Bailey’s hat trick gives him 14 goals this season, tied for the most in Division 1.

I’m sure Terry Pegula had high hopes for Penn State hockey when he donated $102 million for the arena that bares his name, but in its third  season at the premier level of college hockey, did anyone think Penn State would have the nation’s top goal scorer, claim a spot in the Top 20, and be first in the conference standings? Penn State still has 18 games remaining in the regular season, so obviously a lot can change between now and the start of the Big Ten tournament in Detroit on March 19. But the Lions have already surpassed their win total from last season (8) and need just five more to set a new high-water mark as a Division 1 program.

There’s a lot of hockey left to be played, and lingering questions still remain about Skoff’s recent struggles in net, the team’s confounding inability to play a full sixty minutes of hockey, and how the team will bounce back from a mid-season swoon. But for now, Penn State hockey is ahead of schedule.

What’s next?

Penn State returns to Pegula Arena on Saturday, Jan. 10, for a rematch against Ohio State. The puck drops at 3 p.m., and can be seen live on MeTV (Johnstown-Altoona-State College), MyTV (Pittsburgh), CW15 (Harrisburg-Lancaster-Lebanon-York) and FOX56 in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Photo: GoPSUSports

About the Author

CJ Doon

CJ is a senior journalism major from Long Island and Onward State's Sports Editor. He is a third-generation Penn Stater, and his grandfather wrestled for the university back in the 1930s under coach Charlie “Doc” Speidel. Besides writing, one of his favorite activities is making sea puns. You can follow him on Twitter @CJDoon, and send your best puns to [email protected], just for the halibut.

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