Penn State Completes Sweep Over Niagara

Story posted October 20, 2018 in Sports, CommRadio by Tyler Olson

Penn State men’s hockey topped Niagara (1-3-0) 4-1 Saturday as the No. 10/11 Nittany Lions (4-0-0) continue to handle nonconference opponents in their undefeated start to the 2018 season.

The Nittany Lions were coming off an 8-2 victory Friday that saw multiple scrums and seven combined players in the box at one point. The hostilities carried over into the second game and were apparent early.

Niagara senior center Nick Farmer picked up a boarding penalty less than five minutes into the first period with a hit on junior center Nikita Pavlychev that he struggled to get up from. Shortly after a scrum on the boards sent Penn State sophomore forward Sam Sternschein and Purple Eagle freshman defenseman Stephen Kleysen to the box.

Pavlychev opened the scoring at the 7:24 mark with his second goal of the season on Penn State’s second power play. Kris Myllari fed a pass in front of the net from above the right circle which Pavlychev redirected past Niagara goaltender Cole Weaver. Alex Limoges was also credited with an assist on the play.

Pavlychev’s goal was the first time this season the Nittany Lions scored the opening goal of the game, despite outscoring their opponents 17-6 through three games.

While there was no further scoring in the first period, both teams continued to play fast with aggressive counter-attacks and a lot of hits on the neutral ice. The Nittany Lions led the Purple Eagles 15-12 in shots after the first 20 minutes and 16-5 in faceoffs.

8:35 into the second period Niagara’s Justin Kendall scored off a Penn State turnover. Sophomore forward Eric Cooley, who was credited with the assist, took away a bad Nittany Lion pass and fed Kendall inside, who found the back of the net past Penn State goaltender Peyton Jones.
The 6 foot 4 inch junior Jones got the start in the crease as the hero of the Nittany Lions’ NCAA run two seasons ago continues to share time with his senior teammate Chris Funkey.

Funkey allowed two goals to the Purple Eagles last night with 28 saves. Jones surrendered just a single goal Saturday while making 36 saves. Jones and Funkey each got one start in Penn State’s season-opening series last week against then-No. 17 Clarkson.

“We don’t make any promises,” said Penn State head coach Guy Gadowski on what strategy goes into how he deploys his netminders. “All we promise is that they’re both going to get opportunities this year.”

With Penn State’s early-season success, both are likely to continue to see lots of time on the ice.

“With the way things are going right now, it seems nothing’s broken. You know, you don’t have to fix it,” he said.

Niagara was called for too many players on the ice at 14:51 in the second period and Penn State created several opportunities on that power play but was unable to convert against an aggressive Niagara defense and quick reactions from Weaver. Freshman center Ludwig Stenlund was sent to the box at 19:03 as well but Penn State couldn’t score before the clock expired.

The second period ended tied at one, but Penn State controlled possession more than it did in the first and opened up its gap in shots over Niagara to 36-22.

The penalty on Stenlund carried over to the final period and expired before Penn State could score, but just 14 seconds later Chase Berger found the back of the net with a beautiful top-shelf backhand from just outside the crease.

Less than three minutes after that Evan Barratt corralled a rebound behind the Purple Eagles’ net and fed a perfectly-positioned Alex Limoges out front who opened up a 3-1 lead for the Nittany Lions.

“It’s so much fun,” Limoges said after the game of playing on the same line as Barratt and Liam Folkes. “It feels like we’re all working out of one brain too. All of us know what each other’s thinking.”

Niagara came back with several shots from Dylan Mills, Farmer and others in an offensive flurry around the 10-minute mark of the final period. But Jones was stellar, making saves with his shoulders, pads, blocker and glove.

A Nittany Lion penalty on Sternschein for high sticking at 11:39 in the third led to a golden opportunity for the Purple Eagles, who held the momentum on the ice. But Penn State’s penalty kill, led by defensemen Cole Hults and Alex Stevens, held Niagara to just a single shot while Penn State managed two shorthanded chances, both saved by Weaver.

The Purple Eagles pulled Weaver from the net with just under four minutes remaining in the third. Kris Myllari took advantage, firing a shot from deep in Penn State’s own zone to seal the 4-1 victory.

Also in the good news category for Penn State, Denis Smirnov was in the game and looked fully healthy Saturday after a scary moment in Friday night’s contest. The junior left winger went down on the ice in his first game back from injury on a hit to the head from Mills, who was sent to the sin bin for cross-checking.

He almost scored on a shot from the left circle about seven minutes into the first period Saturday, on the same possession as Pavlychev’s goal. Smirnov finished the game with three shots and an assist on Myllari’s goal.

 

Tyler Olson is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and political science. To contact him, email tso5043@psu.edu.