For the last 68 years, college hockey was as much of a place as it was a game. College hockey has been Massachusetts. It’s been Michigan, North Dakota, and Minnesota.
Tonight, college hockey is Pennsylvania.
An NCAA Tournament run was so far off Penn State hockey’s radar five years ago, and somehow, it seems that’s how all of this was possible. The Nittany Lions have been quietly fine-tuning their game over the past few years, but that game’s remained the same. It’s consistently simple in a playing field oft complicated by those looking for individual glory: Shoot the puck at the net. Shoot it again. Bury the rebound.
“I think we were doubted all year. We kinda like that,” Chase Berger said after tallying three points.
Penn State has had its collective head focused at the net and a simple task too ardently to pay attention to much else. This was clear when it was smashing through the USCHO rankings and Guy Gadowsky forgot what Penn State was ranked on multiple occasions. This was clear when Penn State became the first No. 4 seed to win the Big Ten Tournament. This is as clear as ever at U.S. Bank Arena, where Penn State not only played its first tournament game, but won with its own game.
Some purists argued the Nittany Lions had no business even making the NCAA Tournament. They said Penn State’s pre-conference slate was too easy, and claimed it was all over when Penn State suffered a five-game winless streak — as if it had to be perfect to be a contender. The one-and-done nature of the Big Ten Tournament and playoff hockey doesn’t ask for perfection, though.
The Nittany Lions are newcomers to the NCAA, so it was a fair question to entertain: Is Penn State a fluke? No better chance to find out than the playoffs. Would it get obliterated?
Well, obliteration happened, but not how some expected. Penn State defeated 2014 National Champions Union 10-3. It thwarted Mike Vecchione and Spencer Foo, two of the top four scorers in the NCAA. In fact, this was the first time Union allowed 10 goals in a game since it first joined Division I in 1991. What will the purists say now?
“Penn State is going to be a powerhouse for years to come,” Union coach Rick Bennett said.
Another program first comes and goes, and Gadowsky fields the usual questions. Maybe another coach would entertain them. Did you get to see Denver-Michigan Tech? Was such a high score motivating to you?
The questions are fine, but they’ve just never been Penn State hockey.
“The fact that we get to play again — that’s what’s motivating to us.”
Tonight, college hockey is Pennsylvania. But the Nittany Lions will just be looking towards the next net.