By Pat White GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Last Tuesday, Coach Guy Gadowsky questioned his team's mental toughness after Penn State's (9-12-0) overtime loss to Neumann, but on Saturday, the Nittany Lions showed their coach that they were ready to play in their win over Vermont (6-12-4) at the Wells Fargo Center.
Taylor Holstrom (Yorba Linda, Calif.) and David Glen (Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.) both scored goals in the first period to give the Nittany Lions the early lead. Gadowsky didn't think the team played extremely well in the first period, but was happy to escape with the early lead.
"We scored two goals despite not playing well," said Gadowsky, "but we didn't give up any (goals). That showed some mental toughness. We had a better, gritty start and maybe that was the difference in the game."
Junior forward Justin Kirchhevel (Brookings, S.D.) tallied a goal and an assist in his second game back from injury, playing on a line with freshmen Glen and Kenny Brooks (Las Vegas, Nev.). They played their typical tenacious style of hockey and chipped in on the offensive end as well. All three forwards protect the puck well and Kirchhevel made a seamless return back into the lineup.
"Justin is more of a setup guy and David [Glen] is more of a shooter and you saw that on the second goal," Gadowsky said. "I like what [Justin] did Tuesday night against Neumann, he came out and had a huge hit and we knew he was back. I thought he played extremely well and tonight he made a great play and scored a great goal."
The early lead was an encouraging step forward and an indication of how far the Nittany Lions have come since the beginning of the season. The team made the little plays that win games such as blocking shots, getting the puck deep and driving hard to the net. Those are the plays the show the mental toughness of this team.
"I think the first period we only had six shots, but I give our guys a lot credit for gritting out," Gadowsky said. "There were a couple huge blocks in our zone. Casey [Bailey] made some big blocks, Taylor [Holstrom] battled and our defense wasn't clicking, but they were battling."
Freshman goaltender Matthew Skoff (McKees Rock, Pa.) was spectacular again in net for Penn State and bailed the team out on some mistakes in its own zone. Skoff also showed off his athletic ability, tracking the puck well through traffic and making a few saves on redirected shots.
"[Skoff] was huge for us because we weren't clicking [on defense]," Gadowsky said, "He had to make some huge saves. We fumbled a breakout and gave them a breakaway and he stopped it. So if it wasn't for him, things would have turned out a lot different early and I think it would have been a vastly different game."
Although Gadowsky was pleased with his team's win, he credited the Penn State faithful for giving the team an emotional boost.
Vermont was the home team of record for the game, but the Penn State fans didn't allow them to have any home ice edge. The crowd of 19,529 and the Penn State Blue Band brought all of the energy from Happy Valley to Philadelphia and the electric atmosphere played a big factor in the game.
"It's the coolest university and we have the coolest alumni," Gadowsky said. "It was a phenomenal atmosphere and they were a huge part of the win because things weren't clicking for us. We just had to grit it out and when you have a crowd like that behind you it's a lot easier."
The game was Penn State's fifth at a professional arena. The Nittany Lions won two early games in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., against American International and in Rochester, N.Y., against RIT. They split two games at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh and defeated Vermont at the Wells Fargo Center, home of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Gadowsky likes the way his team seems to grind it out in front of big crowds, which has lead to the 4-1 record in big arenas.