By Pat White GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach Guy Gadowsky said his team was in awe of Munn Ice Arena and got caught watching a lot in Penn State's (10-13-0) loss to Michigan State (7-16-3) on Friday night. With their nerves behind them, the Nittany Lions came back on Saturday and defeated the Spartans in comeback fashion.
Freshman goaltender Matt Skoff (McKees Rock, Pa.) described the victory as a character win for Penn State. This was the Nittany Lions first road test against a Big Ten opponent, playing in front of a hostile Michigan State crowd. On Saturday, Michigan State took a 2-0 lead just 6:21 into the first period on two shots from the blue line. The early deficit did not rattle the freshman netminder, and he shut the door for the rest of the game.
"I think Skoff had a shaky start," Gadowsky told the Big Ten Network, "but he came back really strong. That's a big win for us. It's a lot of fun and a great place to play. I can't tell you at the beginning of the year I could have ever expected this. It's a huge win for Penn State and I'm very happy."
For a freshman goaltender, a big crowd of 6,132 Michigan State fans can be intimidating and Skoff said before the game that he is used to hostile crowds from his time playing in the USHL. Coming off a tough 5-3 loss the night before, and trailing 2-0 after one period, Skoff showed off his poise and his ability to shine in Big Ten play.
"The fans will give it to you for sure," Skoff said in an interview with the BTN. "They scored two quick goals, but I think I hung in there pretty well. I just kept telling myself that we were going to get goals and luckily the team [scored] for me. It was a good win for our team and a good step forward for our program."
There was a little extra motivation for this game for Skoff. His friend and former teammate with the Sioux City Musketeers in the USHL, Jake Hildebrand, started the game in goal for Michigan State. Despite great goaltending by his counterpart, Skoff's mates were able to put the pressure on and rally for the comeback win.
Penn State has been a comeback team all season long, and showed its resiliency once again on the big stage. The Nittany Lions were previously 0-11-0 when trailing after the first period, but turned the tides against a team they will see for many years to come in the Big Ten, which begins play next season.
Freshman Mark Yanis (Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich.) made his homecoming to Michigan and shined in all aspects of the game. He scored his third goal of the season on the power play to open the second period on Saturday. Forward Max Gardiner (Deephaven, Minn.) dipped his shoulder using his big 6-foot-3 frame to power to the net and, after a scramble in front, Yanis found the loose puck and beat Hildebrand. Aside from his goal, Yanis played physical, stand-up defense that slowed down the Spartans' offensive attack.
Gardiner had one of his most impressive games of the season. The big right winger dished out three assists in the victory, and has raised his play since moving to the wing. His physical play along the boards coupled with his hard backchecking made him a factor in all three zones last night.
Gardiner's line with Casey Bailey (Anchorage, Alaska) and Taylor Holstrom (Yorba Linda, Calif.) continued their offensive dominance, combining for two goals and six assists in Saturday's contest. The trio has now amassed 12 goals and 18 assists in their last seven games. Holstrom has now scored in three straight games, but his biggest goal was the game-winner on Saturday with just four minutes remaining in the game.
"I think all of them are working very hard," Gadowsky said postgame. "It doesn't just come by accident. I think we started off with Max Gardiner going hard to the net and making a big play...If you work hard, good things happen and I think you can say that for the whole team."
Penn State is now 2-1 against future Big Ten hockey teams, including a win against Ohio State in the Three Rivers Classic. The fledgling program has out-performed expectations and the competitiveness in the Big Ten is another step forward for this up-and-coming program. The Nittany Lions have one more Big Ten test on Feb. 24-25 when they visit Wisconsin.
"I give the guys a lot of credit," Gadowsky touted on the BTN. "They've surprised us a few times this year and this is certainly one of them. It's a great place to play and a lot of fun. This is why you play in the Big Ten."