Series Grades: Penn State vs. Niagara

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

No. 10/11 Penn State enjoyed a big jump in both the USCHO.com and USA Today Division I hockey polls after sweeping then-No. 17 Clarkson in its season-opening series. The Nittany Lions backed it up with two strong wins over the unranked Niagara Purple Eagles this weekend.

Offense: A-

Twelve goals in two games. 114 combined shots. Eight players with multi-point games on the series, including Alex Limoges and Evan Barratt who had multi-point games both Friday and Saturday. Not bad.

Penn State simply outclassed an inferior Niagara team, justifying its place in the major college hockey polls and jumping out to its first 4-0 start in program history. The Purple Eagles didn’t go down either game without a fight, both literal and metaphorical, but the talent on Penn State’s deep bench made the outcome a foregone conclusion.

The great offensive showing from Penn State had one minor blemish – the Nittany Lions went just one for nine on power plays Saturday. With what we’ve seen from this team so far, however, that’s a small issue that can be cleaned up well before conference play starts Nov. 16 against Michigan.

Defense: B

Penn State held Niagara to just 30 shots on Friday and 37 on Saturday, going 9-for-9 on the penalty kill in the series. It’s hard to complain too much about numbers like that, but head coach Guy Gadowsky thought there was room for improvement after Niagara came out with an improved look Saturday.

“I thought they played really well and they kept it very tight and I thought they deserved better because Peyton [Jones] had to be excellent and he was,” Gadowsky said. “We gave up 37 shots so we didn’t play our best defensively but we have to give Niagara a lot of credit and give Peyton [Jones] a lot of credit too.”

Jones’ talent in the crease was on full display midway through the third period Saturday when an offensive onslaught by Nick Farmer and Dylan Mills forced him to contort for five impressive saves in just a couple possessions to preserve Penn State’s 3-1 lead.

A subsequent high-sticking penalty on Sam Sternschein looked like it may open a window for Niagara to get back in it, but the Nittany Lions’ penalty kill held the Purple Eagles to just one shot in two minutes.

Jones finished Friday’s game with 36 saves to increase his season save percentage to a gaudy .973.

Chris Funkey also put in a solid performance Friday, making 28 saves while letting in two goals.

Chase Berger and Limoges both said it’s fun playing on a team with two skilled netminders who can go out and win a game on any given night. Funkey and Jones are both 2-0 so far this season.

Coaching: B+

We’ll withhold the “A” from Gadowsky because Penn State didn’t exactly come out of the locker room firing on all cylinders for either game. Niagara scored first Friday night and was in it through most of the game on Saturday.

Purple Eagle goalie Cole Weaver seemed to have the home team stymied through two periods, but some in-game adjustments and an emphasis on getting in front of the net during the second intermission gave Penn State the chances it needed.

“That’s what gave us the success yesterday,” Gadowsky said after Saturday’s 4-1 win. “All three periods that’s what we were able to do [Friday]. And we didn’t quite do that to our expectations or comparatively to what we did yesterday [during the first two periods].”

Penn State and the Purple Eagles were tied at one heading into the third period, but quick scores from Alex Limoges and Chase Berger opened up the game before Kris Myllari’s open-net goal from way downtown sealed the win for the Nittany Lions. 

Gadowsky seems to be finding chemistry from all lines no matter which combinations he sends out. The top story to watch as this season develops is likely to be how he balances playing time between Jones and Funkey.

“It changes every week, we don’t make any promises on why,” he said. “But obviously the way things are going now it seems nothing’s broken. So, you know, you don’t have to fix it.”

 


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