Laying the Foundation
Certainly the highlight of the conference slate was the pair of victories over Michigan. For Penn State fans who focus on the football rivalry with the Wolverines but also hold a keen interest in the lads on skates, the hockey season was, well, rather glorious.
And the glory continued on Thursday with State’s 2-1 double-overtime victory over Michigan in the first round of the (obviously) first-ever Big Ten Men’s Tournament in the Twin Cities. In a bit of irony, it was a native of Michigan who netted the game-winner. Rookie Zach Sear’s fifth goal of the campaign sent the Nittany Lions into the semifinals, where they’ll face No. 2 seed Wisconsin at 3:00 p.m. (EDT) on Friday at Xcel Energy Center.
In the first meeting between these teams when both held varsity/Division I status, PSU suffered a 7-3 setback. However, less than 24 hours later in the back end of the weekend series, State’s first conference victory occurred in front of the home faithful when commonwealth native Matt Skoff stopped all 32 shots he faced in that historic 4-0 victory. Yes, Michigan will forever be the answer to a trivia question.
One fortnight later, Guy Gadowsky’s squad visited Double-A for the return weekend set. The Friday night matchup ended in another PSU victory, this one via a 5-4 overtime thriller that saw Casey Bailey knot the score at four with less than six seconds remaining in regulation before freshman David Goodwin potted the game-winner on a 2-on-1 break in the extra session. Fittingly, it was Sear who set up Goodwin’s marker that night.
A 5-2 loss the next night at Yost Arena finalized the regular-season series split between the clubs.
No matter what happens on Friday afternoon – in what will surely be a victory for Bucky – the strides made in this de facto freshman season for Penn State Hockey (2012-13 was technically its first D-I campaign but as an Independent, the schedule was irregular at best) has laid the foundation for a bright future. When Gadowsky brings recruits to University Park, a first-round victory over Michigan – an undisputed all-time national powerhouse in the sport – in the league tournament is more of a selling point than it sounds on paper.
Prior to the start of the season, Penn State was predicted to finish last in the conference. As the final standings show, that did indeed happen. But, as in any collegiate sport, the conference tournament tells the story. And on this day, it is definitely not Penn State bringing up the rear.
“We’re not naïve – we understand very well how great the programs are in the Big Ten Conference,” said Gadowsky in his preseason news conference. “At the same time we need players…that are excited about the challenge and are looking forward to the future and what this program can become.”