UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's ice hockey team has been dubbed the comeback kids, especially following its three most recent games. No matter how far behind, the Nittany Lions battle back. Although each game has had its differences, one thing remained constant. The team found inspiration in its goalie, PJ Musico.
Coming in for relief during both Northern Michigan games, Musico led the Blue and White to a comeback win and a comeback tie. Those two performances showed head coach Guy Gadowsky that the senior was ready to make his first start of the season. The following weekend, Musico was once again a source of strength for the Lions as he put on a 33-save performance in a win at the Wells Fargo Center.
"PJ absolutely deserved that start because of what he's done individually, and then what he's done for the team," said Gadowsky. "Coming into those two situations, down three goals, and playing very well and shutting the door but also inspiring the team to go on and win one and tie the other, I think he absolutely deserves to start. It was great to see him play such a strong game. I mean, he's hot right now. It's a good thing for our team."
With two other goaltenders on the roster, Musico has not seen as much playing time, so he is more than excited to finally get this opportunity. Nevertheless, the goalie always puts his team first. No matter who is in net, the senior only wants what is best for the Nittany Lions.
In five appearances this season, Musico has earned a .926 save percentage and is allowing an average of 2.23 goals. He has been playing some of his best hockey, but the goalie still makes sure to take things one day at a time.
"I think I've said it before, I'm a pretty big day-to-day guy," Musico said. "Try to just focus on what you can control at that moment, making sure you're always trying to get better each day and whenever you do get that nod, you've got to be ready."
Every goalie has his own style, but Musico's is vastly different from the Lions' other two netminders. He is not afraid to come out of the net to play the puck. In fact, Musico prides himself on that part of his game and is often found along the boards as opposed to in the crease.
The goalie has practiced his puck handling abilities all his life. Growing up with idols like Marty Brodeur and Partick Roy made him want to be the best in that area of goaltending, and that passion for playing the puck as a child carried over into the way he defends the net today.
"The running joke back home is that I would rather be a forward from guys that have grown up playing with me," Musico said. "I have fun playing the puck. I know that our defensemen love it. One of the reasons I do play the puck so much is to take a little bit of the bumps and bruises off of them for pucks in the corner. If I can make their job easier, they're making my job easier. I enjoy it."
Looking ahead to this weekend, Musico and the Lions (13-7-4) will take on Wisconsin (2-16-4) for the second time this season. Penn State swept the Badgers in the first meeting between the teams, but the goalie knows this series will be a much different set of games.
Both teams have grown over the past two months.
"Obviously Wisconsin's been having a different year than they usually have been in the past years," said the goalie. "So, I'm definitely aware of the situation I should say, and I definitely don't think it will be as easy of a weekend as we had there earlier in the year. I mean, obviously come Friday we're going to be ready to play. We're going to focus on Friday, but we'll just kind of take it from there."
Musico will make his second start of the season on Friday night against the Badgers, looking to go undefeated in his fourth consecutive game. Both Gadowsky and the team have tremendous faith in the goalie's abilities, and they think yet another strong outing is inevitable.
"I think it's impossible to take him out of the net right now," Gadowsky said. "It's impossible."