By Pat White GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.--Penn State men's hockey (13-14) wrapped up its season with a comeback, 3-2 overtime victory against No. 16 Wisconsin (14-11-7) at the Kohl Center on Monday night. Wisconsin marked the third Big Ten team the Nittany Lions defeated after wins against Ohio State and at Michigan State earlier in the season.
It was only appropriate that Penn State would conclude its season the same way it won its first game as a Division I program; with overtime heroics. Penn State has been a resilient team, and head coach Guy Gadowsky liked the heart his team showed to battle out of a 0-2 hole.
"I give [our players] a lot of credit for gritting it out against a very good team," Gadowsky told GoPSUsports.com following the game." [Wisconsin] is great when they get a lead and a tough team to get back on."
Junior forward Taylor Holstrom (Yorba Linda, Calif.) continued his hot streak, despite having his eight game point streak snapped on Sunday in the 5-0 loss to the Badgers. He rebounded with two goals, including the game-winning overtime tally on the backhand, on Monday night. Holstrom has amassed eight goals and six assists in his final 10 games of the season, after only tallying three points in his first 13 games.
Holstrom's game-winning marker was his third of the season, all of which have come against future Big Ten opponents.
After being outshot 51-22 on Sunday night, Penn State needed to get more pucks at the net and create more offense.
"We wanted to get more pucks on net," Gadowsky said. "We did a better job [Monday] and that's a tough team to generate offense on."
Penn State rebounded on Monday with 36 shots, and did a much better job of testing Wisconsin goaltender Landon Peterson as all three goals were products of shooting the puck and crashing the net.
Holstom's first goal was a shot from the right circle that beat Peterson to the short side. Freshman forward Casey Bailey (Anchorage, Alaska) tied the game at two on the power play by pushing the puck on net that slipped between Peterson's legs. The overtime tally was generated by Holstrom throwing the puck on net and crashing the net to find the puck in a scramble in front.
With Bailey's power play goal, the Nittany Lions improved their record to 10-2 when scoring on the man-advantage. The power play was a struggle for the team all season, but when it was clicking, it was a major factor in wins.
Freshman goaltender Matt Skoff (McKees Rocks, Pa.) came up huge, tying his career-high with 42 saves vs. the Badgers in the win. After a slow start to the season, Skoff arose as the lead man for the Nittany Lions between the pipes.
Wisconsin brought offensive pressure right out of the gate and Skoff was forced to be sharp early. He tracked the puck well and displayed great lateral movement, robbing multiple Badgers from the back side.
Like the victory on Jan.26 at Michigan State, the Nittany Lions fell into a 0-2 hole. Skoff found himself facing a 2-on-0 with two Wisconsin forwards and couldn't keep up with some tick-tack-toe passing and Mark Zengerle beat him high to give Wisconsin the early lead. With 6:41 left in the second Joseph LaBate just fired a puck at the net from a weird angle and the puck avoided Skoff.
Being a freshman goaltender playing in a Big Ten arena against a ranked team can be very stressful. After letting in the second goal, Gadowsky liked Skoff's mental toughness to bear down and shut out the Badgers the rest of the game.
"That [second goal] is a tough goal to give up, in a tough environment and a tough time," Gadowsky said. "Instead of hanging his head, he re-focused. It was a tremendous job by Skoff."
Gadowsky said before the weekend matchup with Wisconsin that a rivalry would be on the rise, depending on what happens this weekend. Penn State beat a Wisconsin team on the road that was 5-3-2 in its last 10 games and coming off an upset victory against No. 2 Minnesota. The win was a big boost to the Penn State program, and a proper farewell for the seniors.
"I'm so happy for the seniors because this is such a great way for them to go out," said Gadowsky. "They've done so much for us. This is their playoffs, this is their final test and they were tremendous."
Penn State concluded its season with a 13-14 record and was 3-2 against teams they will face next season in the newly formed Big Ten Conference.