Peyton Jones Had Been There Before
240:16 minutes. 118 saves on 123 shots. 3 wins.
Peyton Jones’ performance in net for Penn State men’s hockey throughout the Big Ten Tournament won him Most Outstanding Player, an accolade he deserved even if the Nittany Lions ended up losing the championship. With the help of Penn State’s defense, the young goalie staved off Wisconsin — a hungry team whose only way into the NCAA Tournament was to win. He did this in double overtime, after winning in double overtime the night before. You know the story by now.
“For goalies, [long, high-stakes games] are more taxing mentally. One shot and the game’s over,” Jones said.
He knows about that one shot on an intimate level. His composure on the big stage with the post-season and a Big Ten title on the line was telling, especially on a team looking a bit shaky headed into the tournament. It wasn’t the first time he proved elite in a double overtime high-stakes situation, though. Jones’ experience in the 2016 USHL playoffs prepared him for an eerily similar situation in the Big Ten Tournament just a year later.
The Hobey Baker nominee ended up on the losing side the first time around, but the fact that his team survived for as long as it did was virtually his own doing. His USHL team, the Lincoln Stars, ended last season with a 4-3 double overtime loss to the Waterloo Black Hawks — despite Jones’ 60+ saves.
The teams were tied 1-1 through the first period, scored four goals from 12:48 to 18:36 in the second, then went scoreless for the next 50 minutes and 56 seconds. Midway through the second overtime, Ronnie Hein capitalized on a Lincoln neutral zone turnover for the game-winner, sneaking past Jones’ left shoulder to clinch the series 3-1.
Perhaps this experience primed Jones for the veteran-caliber Big Ten Tournament play. Perhaps the Stars’ addition of a goalie coach, an atypical move in the USHL at the time, played a hand in his future Most Outstanding Player accolade as well. Jones’ former goalie coach Clay Adams gives most of the credit to him, though.
“I really didn’t do a ton to be honest — a lot of it is on him,” he said. “The big changes we tried to instill with him were about having a plan for every situation. If he felt a little unsure about certian situations we made sure to get reps in for those scenarios during practice so they weren’t in his mind during games. We put most emphasis on the uncomfortable.”
Adams said the biggest change he’s noticed in Jones is his mentality when things do stray from the plan. Instead of getting down when a bad goal goes in like he used to, he’s able to bounce back mentally and physically. On top of zeroing in on weaknesses during practice, Adams thinks Jones’ mentality shift comes from the ability to grow from tough losses — a talent reserved for “better” goalies.
A completely exhausted Jones greeted the media after 240:16 minutes of mental and physical effort with a Big Ten title to show for it. “Like the guys were saying in the locker room [headed into double overtime], we’ve been here before. And we have. We were there 24 hours ago.”
Yes, the whole team was there just a day before and it ended in a win. But Jones found himself on the bad end of “there” a year ago. He wasn’t about to let it end like that again.