Penn State’s hockey season came to an end Friday afternoon at the hands of Michael Mersch and the Wisconsin Badgers. In the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, the No. 2 Badgers (23-10-2) outlasted the No. 6 Nittany Lions (8-26-2) 2-1 a day after Penn State eliminated Michigan in double overtime by the same score.
Curtis Loik tallied the only goal for Penn State in the game, his seventh of the year, in the final game of the season for the Nittany Lions.
On the other side of the ice, Mersch of the Badgers lead the team to victory on the shoulders of his two second period goals, one in the dying seconds of the frame to break a 1-1 tie.
Matt Skoff took the net again for the Nittany Lions and showed no rust after playing for 90+ minutes against Michigan on Thursday. The sophomore goaltender stopped 32 shots on 34 Badger attempts, making 84 of 87 saves in the two consecutive starts in the tournament.
The first period held more play in the Penn State zone but Skoff and Wisconsin goaltender Joel Rumpel kept the game scoreless after the opening twenty minutes. The Badgers took a 11-8 shots lead into the first intermission.
To open the second frame, Penn State jumped onto the scoreboard 55 seconds in off Loik’s tally past Badger goaltender Rumpel. Teammate Kenny Brooks fed a saucer pass around a Wisconsin defender to Loik as the pair were streaking down the ice in the offensive zone and Loik tapped the tape pass between the arm and torso of Rumpel blocker side for the 1-0 lead.
The lead didn’t hold up long, as 32 seconds later, Wisconsin stormed back down the ice off the ensuing faceoff and Mersch potted his first goal of the afternoon past Skoff. Badger Jefferson Dahl laid a pass out to Mersch in front of the net and the inaugural All-Big Ten Conference first team player did the rest as he made a move around the Penn State defense and stashed the puck in behind Skoff while falling to tie the game at 1-1.
While the game opened up from there, neither team could net their chances until the final minute of the middle frame. Penn State took a bench minor in too many men on the ice with 1:06 remaining in the period that gave Wisconsin their third power play of the game and the Badgers did not waste the opportunity. With 10 seconds to play in the second, Mark Zengerle took the puck at the side of the Penn State cage and fired a quick pass across the goal crease to Mersch all alone for the easy tally on his second goal as Skoff could not get over quick enough.
Wisconsin took the 2-1 lead into the final intermission and kept it, keeping Penn State off the board through the Nittany Lions two power plays and forechecking relentlessly within the final minutes to keep the puck pinned in the defensive zone.
The Nittany Lions were outshot 34-25 in the semifinal game.
Penn State ends the 2013-14 season with a 8-26-2 record, finishing in sixth place in the Big Ten conference. As you will probably hear from other news sources and blogs, and from me, the Nittany Lions were better than their record indicated on paper. The team won just eight games this season, a drop from the 13-14-0 record Penn State posted last year, but in reality the two seasons are incomparable. The Nittany Lions played a hybrid independent schedule last season before making the full jump to the new Big Ten conference this year against established, historical hockey programs so it would be fruitless to compare completely different scenarios to one another.
What I can say is, despite the 8 wins, 11 of the losses were one goal losses with 6 coming against Big Ten opponents. It took until February 8 to get a Big Ten win but, including the post season, Penn State went 3-2 vs Michigan and look to have their first hockey rival of their new Division I era. Penn State will retain all of itsplayers who’ve registered points this season and will keep the goaltending trio of Skoff, Eamon McAdam, and PJ Musico in net for one more year. The Nittany Lions will get some help in the form of five recruits committed to the 2014-15 season, three forwards in Matt Mendelson, Scott Conway, and James Robinson and two defensemen in Erik Autio and Kevin Kerr.
Red shirt sophomore Eric Scheid led the Nittany Lions in goals with 11, playing in all 36 games this season and leading the team in points as well with 20. Defenseman Patrick Koudys and forward Kenny Brooks also played every game this year, with Koudys knocking through eight points on defense (2G, 6A) and Brooks with four goals and five assists for nine points. Veterans Taylor Holstrom and Luke Juha tallied 17 (8G, 9A) and 15 (4G, 11A) points on the season respectively in their second year with the team.
Scoring came through more new names this year with freshman David Goodwin going second in points under Scheid with 18 (7G, 11A) and freshman Dylan Richard had 15 (4G, 11A), rounding out the top five point producers for the team.
Leading point scorer last season Casey Bailey got off to a slow start but rebounded nicely to be the team’s second leading goal scorer with nine goals in his 31 games played with four assists for 13 points.
Goaltenders Skoff, McAdam, and Musico faired well in the team’s second Division I season. Skoff lead the team with 23 games played on 23 starts, ending the year with a .904 SV% and 3.00 GAA in his games played. Skoff was the only goaltender to have a win this season for the Nittany Lions. Freshman McAdam played in 10 games and started in 10, posting a .882 SV% with 4.09 GAA in his rookie year with the team, extremely well for the Islander draft pick. Musico filled the back up role nicely, playing in 7 games and starting 3 with a .873 SV% and a 4.16 GAA in those games.
Hockey has officially ended for the year in Happy Valley for the 2013-14 season, but not on a disappointing note. Stay tuned here through the off-season for news or stories on the team as the Nittany Lions look to build on their season and Big Ten semifinal loss as they get ready for the 2014-15 season!