Penn State Bounces Back to Split Series with Mercyhurst
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The No. 17 ranked Penn State men’s hockey team continued their early season funk and inconsistencies with a shaky weekend split with the Mercyhurst Lakers. The Nittany Lions opened Friday with a 7-4 defeat and followed up Saturday with a 7-5 victory at Pegula Ice Arena.
Penn State came in with a record of 4-4-0. Coming into the weekend, they had split each series, including against Minnesota earlier in the month and last weekend at home against Michigan. The Nittany Lions were the fifth highest ranked Big Ten school coming in, with Minnesota taking the top spot at No. 5.
The Lakers came in with a 2-2-2 record. They tied their first two matchups of the season and have gone 2-2 since. Mercyhurst was coming off a weekend split against Bentley on the road.
Denis Smirnov, who leads Penn State in points with 11 and goals with five, was out for Friday’s contest.
The first period was wild and featured a little bit of everything. Flurry of goals, powerplay chances and goalie changes.
In the first thirteen seconds, Mercyhurst forced a turnover off the faceoff. The tone was immediately set and the Lakers were ready to play. Penn State was forcing multiple turnovers in their own zone off terrible puck handling. Turnovers would be a serious issue throughout the first period for both teams.
The Nittany Lion offense was poor and the defense looked shaky right away. With just about five minutes left in the period, starting goalie Peyton Jones let in his third goal on less than six shots. About 17 minutes in, Jones was already pulled for backup Chris Funkey.
This sent a clear message to the team. Less than a minute later, Andrew Sturtz put in his fifth goal of the season and less than a minute after that Erik Autio got his first. Immediately the Penn State offense woke up, looked fast and sharp and Mercyhurst started to falter and the period ended 3-2, Lakers leading.
Both teams got two goals back in the second period. Almost as soon as Mercyhurst scored, Penn State would follow right behind and respond.
The shots kept coming from the Nittany Lions, who ended with 42 shots. Nikita Pavlychev and freshman Alex Limoges notched goals to get to four. The defense was not good enough, though, especially in transition where Mercyhurst continued to burn them.
Neither team could fully seize control or momentum, but Penn State still had a fight ahead of them. The third period was a grudge match between each team, with neither giving way for the first 12 minutes. No one could take momentum and each offense was doing a good job holding the puck.
The killer for the Nittany Lions was a boarding penalty on Cole Hults that resulted in a five-minute major penalty. Mercyhurst’s Les Lancaster put it by Funkey and with under 10 minutes left, it looked over for Penn State who never found any rhythm and their defense struggled throughout. The Lakers got another late goal and took game one 7-4.
“We actually offensively did a lot of what we wanted to,” Guy Gadowsky, Penn State’s head coach, said after the game. “But we didn’t have our defensive cylinders firing and we let our goalies out to dry.”
Game two saw a major turn around for the Nittany Lions led heavily by the stamina of team captain James Robinson and the consistency of Sturtz.
With less than three minutes into the first period, Robinson executed on Sturtz’s blocked shot to rack up not only Penn State’s first goal of the match, but his first goal of the season as well.
“Having a hot start tonight was something that we stressed right from the end of the game last night,” Robinson said. “Getting that first one in and trying to get that momentum rolling for the whole game was big for our team.”
However, Mercyhurst was quick to answer back, racking up two goals within a minute and a half of each another to give the Lakers a 2-1 lead with a little under eight minutes left in the first.
After allowing a season-high seven goals in Friday’s contest, the Nittany Lions emerged stronger defensively in the first period through physicality and heavy pressure.
Robinson snagged his second goal of the period with a little under five minutes left, sending the Nittany Lions into intermission tied 2-2 and up in shots 20-16.
Penn State emerged even stronger offensively in the second period, claiming two early goals that helped to outweigh some of their defensive struggles.
Robinson continued to feed his hunger for goals, completing a hat trick only thirty seconds into the second period to take back the lead for the Nittany Lions. However, the offensive excitement only continued from there after a 2-on-1 break allowed Chase Berger to find net and boost Penn State to a 4-2 lead. With a little under 10 minutes left in the period, Penn State had outshot Mercyhurst 30-19.
Later in the period, the Lakers were able to capitalize on a power play opportunity that saw Josh Lammon close the gap on Penn State’s lead to 4-3. Answering back to Penn State’s goals in both the first and second periods, Mercyhurst displayed their ability to be a competitive threat.
“I really like the way Mercyhurst plays,” Gadowsky said. “They have so much speed through the middle. It really causes problems.”
Taking a 5-3 lead after a Liam Folkes goal, Penn State headed into the third period needing to continue their execution on offense and limit mistakes defensively.
Within the first five minutes of the third period, Jones had seven saves as the goalie looked to bounce back from a poor Friday night performance and protect Penn State’s lead.
At the end of a Penn State power play with a little under eight left in the period, the Nittany Lions allowed Mercyhurst to tie the game back up 5-5. However, momentum started to shift in favor of the blue and white that allowed them to finish out the match strong.
After a wild scramble in front of the net, Pavlychev was able to secure the puck from the point and slam one in to take the lead back.
Securing a 5-on-3 power play with 24 seconds left in the game, Mercyhurst was presented with the opportunity to tie and send the game into overtime. As fans held their breath waiting to see what would happen, they soon were able to sigh with relief as Sturtz sent the puck flying in on an open net to secure the victory for the Nittany Lions.
It was a record breaking night for the junior who not only set a Penn State single-game record for assists with four, but passed former Nittany Lion Casey Bailey on the all-time goal scoring list with his 46th career goal.
“A big credit to all of those goals go to all of the players that I’ve played with over my 2 and-a-half years here,” Sturtz said. “I couldn’t of done it without all of those guys, without all of their hard work.”
After a monster effort on offense and limiting mistakes on defense, Penn State redeemed themselves in game two of the series to walk away with a 7-5 win over Mercyhurst.
These two programs had only met once before, a 7-0 victory for Penn State last season that sparked a program record 13-game unbeaten streak.
The split moved Penn State to 5-5-0 on the young season. Penn State is still trying to get their groove back from last season and have yet to find it.
The Nittany Lions travel to South Bend to take on the No. 10 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish who made the Frozen Four last season.
Matt Harvey is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and history. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ellie French is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email email@example.com.