Penn State defeated the Army Black Knights 4-1 in their season opener at Pegula Ice Arena on Friday night. Despite spending what seemed like almost half of the game in the penalty box, the Nittany Lions emerged victorious from their highly anticipated first game to start the season off 1-0-0.
Gates to the arena opened at 6:30 p.m. and almost immediately, the fans’ presence was felt. The student section, aptly named the Roar Zone, filled in their 1,000 seats in no time and the rest of Pegula filed in until there was hardly any elbow room left in the arena. The atmosphere was completely electric throughout the entire game, from the start of the emotional opening video dedicated to the history of the program and the arena through the first puck drop to the final whistle of the game.
If the crowd wasn’t excited before the game, assistant captain Nate Jensen gave them a reason to be just 3:02 into the first period. After receiving a pass from Taylor Holstrom, Jensen circled to the top of the zone, and then fired a shot through traffic in front of Army goaltender, Rob Tadazak, who never saw it coming, to give the Nittany Lions the 1-0 lead. Penn State had the momentum then, until the team took back-to-back penalties, the last of which being a Kenny Brooks checking from behind call that gave him a game misconduct and a five minute major penalty to Army. Nothing came of the penalty, but the Nittany Lions lost a key forward for the rest of the game because of it.
After a scoreless second period, with starting goaltender Matthew Skoff keeping the Black Knights to no goals and the team having committed more penalties – 8, with Brooks’ game misconduct, through the first 2 periods, including a 5-on-3 opportunity for the Black Knights – the Nittany Lions gained some breathing room in the third to make it 2-0 off a Curtis Loik shorthanded tally. Coming 3:24 into the third frame, the Nittany Lions were shorthanded thanks to a Jonathan Milley roughing penalty, and off of a great neutral zone turnover, Loik took a David Goodwin pass up the left side for a two-on-one and beat Tadazak glove side. Goodwin would get his first goal of the season a little under ten minutes later on a three-on-none breakaway after a blocked pass in the Penn State defensive zone that beat the Army goaltender stick side this time to put Penn State at a comfortable 3-0 lead.
Army would get one back, spoiling Skoff’s shutout, off of another 5-on-3 power play for the Black Knights with just 4:21 left in the game. Army defenseman Mac Lalor put the puck past Skoff on the two-man advantage, who was down in the butterfly and unable to stop the shot. However, Penn State would ice the game with a Eric Scheid empty netter a few minutes later with 25 seconds to go to make the score 4-1 in favor of the Nittany Lions.
Shots were in Penn State’s favor by the end of the game, 35-26, though they trailed 7-5 after one and were tied at 19 after two. In total, the Nittany Lions committed 10 penalties in the game, 11 with Brooks’ game misconduct, and according to Gadowsky in the post game press conference, were due to the team being “jacked up” about the opener. Obviously, those numbers have to go down – and they should – if the team is to be successful this season. While some of the calls on the ice were at times questionable by the refs, the team was lucky that they got burned by the penalties only once. Also of note, while Patrick Koudys wasn’t on the score sheet, he lead the team in blocked shots with 5 in the game. Skoff stopped 25 of 26 Black Knight shots, ending up with a .962 save percentage on the night as well. The three stars for Friday’s game were Holstrom (3rd), Goodwin (2nd), and Skoff (1st).
The next game for the Nittany Lions will be next Friday, the 18th, at Air Force. The Falcons lost their first game of the season Friday 6-1 versus Alaska and will look to rebound when Penn State comes to visit in Colorado Springs. The game has a 9:05 p.m ET start and, as long as there is a livestream available, I should be able to live Tweet the game. The teams will play twice during the weekend, once on Friday, and again on Saturday, also with a 9:05 p.m. ET start time. Highlights for last night’s game against Army can be found here on the Big Ten Network website. Until next week, make sure to follow me on Twitter for coverage of both hockey teams as they make their way into their second weeks of the season!