‘Even-Keeled’ Peyton Jones Driving Penn State Hockey’s Newfound Defensive Success
Penn State hockey’s Peyton Jones has gotten off to a phenomenal start to his fourth and final year in between the pipes.
Jones was particularly excellent when the Nittany Lions trounced then-No. 7 Wisconsin 6-1 at Pegula Ice Arena last Thursday before completing the sweep with a 4-2 win one night later. The sweep was in no small part thanks to the goaltender, who stopped 63 of Wisconsin’s 66 shots over the course of the weekend. Jones performance was nothing short of dominant, and he was named the Big Ten’s first star of the week as a result.
One of the 63 saves Jones made against the Badgers was a dazzling glove stop on Cole Caufield, the NCAA’s leading goal scorer so far this season and a top-15 NHL Draft pick. Caufield toe-dragged a Penn State defender to create a golden opportunity for himself in the high slot. Jones flashed the leather on Caufield’s laser of a wrist shot to maintain the Nittany Lions’ one-goal lead early in the second period.
The save was, by head coach Guy Gadowsky’s own admission, “one of many turning points” in the big win. However, Jones doesn’t feel the same way.
“I mean, a save’s a save,” he said. “I’m glad I could help the guys out.”
When you take Jones’ response at face value, you might think it’s just a regurgitated answer to a question he didn’t want to answer. Jones didn’t want to pump his own tires by expanding on the save, so he resorted to a cliché engrained in the back of his mind thanks to years of media training, right?
That might be true, but as it turns out, reporters aren’t the only people who have a hard time getting insight out of the goaltender.
“I have to be honest: Peyton doesn’t talk about his numbers to me. He doesn’t talk about his performances,” Gadowsky said Monday. “He doesn’t look any different when he’s winning or losing. He’s just so even-keeled. It’s hard to get much out of him. He’s pretty much the same no matter what happens.”
It’s not like this is a new phenomenon either. Gadowsky has talked about Jones’ even-keeled demeanor throughout the goaltender’s three-plus seasons in Hockey Valley. Jones refusing to talk about his numbers and evaluate his performances with the head coach is a new detail, but this year, those numbers are speaking for themselves.
The senior is 6-0 with a .947 save percentage and a 1.67 goals-against average so far this year. He ranks among the top-10 goaltenders in the nation when it comes to goals-against average, and his save percentage is tied for second in the nation with UMass-Lowell’s Tyler Wall.
Perhaps the most valuable part of Jones’ game isn’t his knack for spectacular saves or his sound fundamentals. He inspires confidence among his teammates, which is all you can ask your goaltender to do.
“The team obviously has confidence in him, but we always have,” Gadowsky said. “And it’s not necessarily about the numbers he’s putting up. You obviously have to be high-performing, but when you’re very even-keeled and don’t get rattled, that gives the team confidence. I do feel his demeanor is something that helps his play, and it certainly helps the team.”
“He’s been unbelievable for us,” junior wing Sam Sternschein added. “We don’t win games if he doesn’t make the saves he’s made.”
Penn State’s past defensive struggles are well-documented. The team still had its moments — including a rock bottom-esque 4-0 home defeat to lowly Alaska-Fairbanks — but right now, those struggles seem to be a thing of the past.
The team will wrap up its season-opening nine-game homestand with a series against Michigan State this weekend. Puck drop is slated for 7 p.m. Friday, and 6 p.m. Saturday back at Pegula Ice Arena.
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