By Erin Neri, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After splitting this past weekend's series in Minnesota, Penn State men's hockey has a lot of information to work with heading into their home opener against American International College Thursday.
The Nittany Lions came out strong, beating the Golden Gophers on Friday night 3-1 with goals coming from the sticks of sophomore forwards Nikita Pavlychev and Denis Smirnov along with junior forward Andrew Sturtz. Both Sturtz and Smirnov also scored on Sunday night in the team's 6-3 loss, along with junior forward Alec Marsh.
"If you asked us in the start of the year if we were to guarantee ourselves 500 out of those two trips, we'd probably take it," Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky said
One of the bright spots from the weekend, Sturtz's back-to-back goal scoring performances.
While the righty shooter led the team in goals last season and tied the single season scoring record, that's not all he adds to the team. Sturtz brings passion, enthusiasm and intensity, know by his teammates and coaches as the type of Nittany Lion to lead by example.
"When he's 'Sturtzy' there's no excuses," Gadowsky said. "When he's going out there and sacrificing his body, bumping into people and flying over people, no one has an excuse to take it easy."
Although scoreless in the Nittany Lions season opener on the road, it goes without saying Sturtz felt like himself again this weekend while finding the back of the net twice.
"Personally, I didn't think I played that well the first weekend," Sturtz said. "I thought I caught a second gear last weekend, and hopefully I can just keep amping it up."
Sturtz wasn't the only one who got back to his "old self," with sophomore goalie Peyton Jones showing off his skill and concentration with an unbelievable diving stick save in net. The play was even impressive enough to crack the SportsCenter Top 10, coming in at No. 4.
"I know it's only two weekends in, but [Jones' save could be] the save of the year," Gadowsky said. "When something like that happens you can't help but think, 'oh man this is our night.'"
The save wasn't just luck though, as Gadowsky noted Jones had pulled off the same save in practice earlier during the week and in Friday's pregame skate.
Come Thursday, Penn State hosts its home opener in front of a rowdy and eager blue and white crowd. With the puck drop set for 7 p.m. on Thursday, the Nittany Lions are anxiously awaiting their return to Pegula Ice Arena.
"The area that really separates us is honestly the atmosphere in Pegula, starting with the Roar Zone. It is truly is the best in college hockey and that truly is a significant statement," Gadowsky said. "That's a big part of our record at home."
In addition to getting their first taste of Hockey Valley for the season, the Big Ten Championship banner will also be raised in Pegula to commemorate last year's historic team.
"It makes me extremely grateful to be a part of Penn State, that's the honest truth," Gadowsky said.
Although this will be a special moment for many, there is still a game to play afterward. Gadowsky didn't seem too worried about how his team would handle the pressure to perform after the ceremony.
"It's a really good
problem to have," Gadowsky said. "Is it a concern? Yea it is, but it's a concern
I'd love to have every year."