P.J. Musico: Penn State Hockey’s Unsung Hero
Third-string goalies don’t get a lot of love. In the NHL, teams only have two and send the rest to the minor leagues. Even in college hockey, teams typically have two goaltenders, and only turn to a third in case of injury.
Penn State is fortunate enough to have three quality goalies. Coach Guy Gadowsky has usually handed the reins to Matt Skoff or Eamon McAdam, who are both top five in goals-against-average and save percentage in the Big Ten, but he also has the fortune of a third capable netminder. Despite not playing enough games to be eligible among the statistical leaders, P.J. Musico’s 2.37 GAA would top the Big Ten, while his .913 SV% would tie him with McAdam for second place.
Musico is more than just his statistics, however. Often known as “the other guy” in the goalie rotation, the senior offers more than hockey. He has a reputation as one of the funniest guys on the team, and what he lacks in games started, he makes up for in being a great teammate. Gadowsky summarized his role succinctly after Musico’s most recent appearance in a 5-5 tie against Northern Michigan.
“A coach from the [Pittsburgh Penguins] told me there was a player who might not have played for the AHL [minor league] team, but having him around made everyone else play better,” he explained. “That’s P.J. to us.”
What could be considered a defining play for Musico came in the previous game against Northern Michigan. He left the crease to play the puck behind the net, where he collided with a Wildcat forward and was assessed an interference penalty.
When asked after the game if that was the best hit of his career, he had a simple answer: “No. I didn’t see what happened to the other guy, but I’ve had some bigger ones.”
Even when he’s not making saves, he’s doing something goofy of note on the ice.
His statistical value to the team comes from zero starts, but four relief appearances. Across those four games, he has allowed a grand total of four goals – a pretty incredible rate. His first game of the season came in the Penguins’ Consol Energy Center, where he was on the wrong side of a 4-1 loss, despite allowing no goals in eight minutes of playing time.
His other three appearances sparked what are arguably the Nittany Lions’ best performances of the season. First, in the first game of a weekend series against Ohio State, Musico took the reins after the Buckeyes took a 3-0 lead and chased Matt Skoff from the net. Despite allowing an early third-period goal to create a four-goal deficit, his presence helped propel his team to a hell of a frame. Casey Bailey scored soon after to get Penn State on board, then linemate David Goodwin added one of his own. Bailey buried two more to tie the game with less than a minute left and send the game to overtime, where Ohio State was finally able to put Penn State away. Still, Musico’s efforts fended off Ohio State’s best attempts to quell the massive comeback, and managed to earn an overtime loss.
Musico’s other two appearances were this past weekend, in both games against Northern Michigan. Dylan Richard put his team ahead 1-0 early in the first game, but starter Matt Skoff allowed four straight goals to give the away team a three-goal lead. And once again, it was Musico’s presence that propelled his team back into contention. This time, four straight goals from Bailey, Richard, David Glen, and Scott Conway earned Penn State a regulation win, while Musico turned away all 11 shots he saw.
“He gave us a spurt… He gave us a huge save out of the gate, and more huge ones later,” Gadowsky praised after the game. “We needed him tonight.”
The second game of the series saw the Wildcats come out of the gate flying and force out starter Eamon McAdam, who allowed three goals in the first period. Musico would surrender two more goals in his longest appearance of the season, but not before providing the spark that caused the Nittany Lions’ offense to erupt. His team scored five goals on a season-high 64 shots, and he saved 17-of-19 shots.
“I didn’t really have much time to prepare mentally, but when you’re thrown into the fire like that, the coach expects all three of us to perform,” Musico said after Saturday’s 5-5 tie. “It was fun.”
“A lot of people say it’s tough, but I try to not really focus on that and just go out there and play,” he added. “Having fun is something that I’ve always really stressed myself. At the end of the day, we’re really just out here being kids.”
Labels don’t do justice for the goalie. Sure, the senior goalie gets the least amount of playing time, and in past seasons, his numbers have never stood out. Still, his role isn’t to be the team’s elite netminder. It’s simply to be a great teammate, and whether that means lightening the mood in the locker room, igniting the team’s offense from the crease, or holding off opponents’ attempts to bury his team, he does it and does it damn well.