UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After a disappointing Friday night loss to No. 15 Minnesota, the Penn State men's hockey team knew winning Saturday's game was a necessity. With such few series remaining in the regular season, the Nittany Lions wanted to get back on track, break their three-game losing streak and get their first program win against the Gophers.
The Blue and White immediately put the 2-1 loss behind them and began focusing on the task ahead. The Gophers (17-10-3, 8-3-3 B1G) had not been beaten in seven games, but a few Penn State (16-10-4, 8-5-1 B1G) adjustments and one hard-fought rematch was about to change that.
Penn State downed the Gophers, 4-3, in thrilling fashion with an overtime, power play goal.
The Nittany Lions struck first when Curtis Loik capitalized on the man advantage seven minutes into the game. Five minutes later, they extended their lead to two after Scott Conway, who assisted Loik's tally, scored a highlight-reel goal, the first of two on the night for the freshman.
"I think that might have been his best all-around game, and that was a big, big, big time goal," said head coach Guy Gadowsky of Conway. "The first one of his was just big time. The second one was nice too, but he really played one heck of a hockey game. He's a confident kid, and he was just so obviously not satisfied to just be on the same ice. He played to win that game."
The strong play from Conway was exactly what Gadowsky was looking for after benching the forward last weekend against Michigan State. With some time to think, Conway knew he needed to refocus.
The changes he made led him to a plus-two, three-point night.
"I think Coach made a good decision putting me in the stands," said Conway. "I took a step back and just thought about stuff, what I should be doing and what I shouldn't be doing. That mainly brought my focus to these games, and I tried to do my best."
Although the Lions maintained a lead throughout the majority of the game, Minnesota refused to go down easily. The Gophers battled back and scored their third and tying goal in the final minute of the play.
While the goal was disappointing, Gadowsky and the Lions remained confident. The team had played a strong game, and it was ready to continue on. For the Nittany Lions, this was a must win.
Not even two minutes into the overtime, Minnesota took a penalty. Luke Juha got the puck and stuck to the Penn State hockey mentality.
The defenseman shot the puck.
"Minnesota was all over us for a little while there," said Juha. "They had a bunch of momentum, and we got a power play. So, we knew we had to capitalize on that to get three points. [Casey] Bailey got it on the far wall and passed it to me. I had tons of time and was looking for sticks."
With David Glen screening the Gopher's goalie, the puck found its way into the back of the net. With the win, Penn State officially beat every team in the Big Ten Conference this season.
As for Juha, Gadowsky was thankful to have him in the lineup. The blueliner was questionable for this matchup against Minnesota after an injury sidelined him for much of the week.
"He had a lower body injury that kept him off the ice until Thursday actually," Gadowsky explained. "It's funny because we had a discussion after Thursday's practice, and we were touch and go whether we would have him play. Good thing we did."
While the win was important, the team also played for more than itself this weekend.
With THON in full swing across the street in the Bryce Jordan Center, the Nittany Lions wanted to be victorious for the kids, for every child and family that has dealt with the effects of pediatric cancer.
"As hockey players, you have to battle through injuries sometimes," Juha said. "It was a little tougher for me. I didn't feel like I had a full stride. But, at the end of the day, especially on THON weekend, these kids battle so hard, and I think for this weekend we did the same thing. We're lucky that we got a win at the end of the day. So, it's a great weekend for us. THON is such an inspirational thing for our school, and it's an uplifting event. After this, we're going to go practice our Pep Rally dance and hopefully win that too."
Merely hours later, they did just that. Men's hockey was crowned the THON 2015 Pep Rally champions, raking in its second win of the night and making the weekend one to remember for the entire team.