UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Leaving the confines of Pegula Ice Arena for the first time in over a month, the Penn State men's hockey team hit the road for a series against Michigan State. The Nittany Lions were confident and ready to play as they arrived in East Lansing looking to lengthen their eight-game unbeaten streak.
That confidence, however, was not enough as the team was swept for the first time this season.
The Spartans had every answer Friday night, blanking Penn State, 3-0. Despite a strong final push, the Lions (15-9-4, 7-4-1-0 B1G) also found themselves on the losing side Saturday. Michigan State (12-12-2, 6-4-2-2 B1G) grabbed its second win of the weekend by a final score of 3-2.
"Friday, we just had a mental lapse," said defenseman David Thompson. "We just didn't play our game. We knew we were really disappointed with the way we came out and played on Friday. We knew we had to get back to doing the things that made us successful through this point in the season. So, Saturday we just focused on playing Penn State hockey again."
Prior to this weekend, Penn State averaged 41.6 shots per game, a much higher statistic than the 28 shots it managed Friday night. The performance marked only the fourth time this season the Lions were outshot by their opponent, and it was the first time the team was shut out.
Saturday, the Blue and White knew changes had to be made. The Lions needed to get back to their roots. They needed to play Penn State hockey.
"I think the second game we got back to our game and responded well after how we played the first night," defensemen Connor Varley said. "We played more in their end and generated a lot more offense."
The junior opened the scoring for Penn State with a power play goal in the second period of Saturday's game. Varley's goal continued the recent scoring trend for the Lions' blueliners.
The defensemen all enjoy the freedom to join the rush when opportunities arise. Earlier in the year, they were not getting bounces, but as of late the pieces have fallen into place. The goals are beginning to come.
"Obviously, it's really exciting and unbelievable to have things going our way," Thompson said of the blueline's offensive production. "We just have to make sure that we keep doing everything possible, working hard day in and day out on and off the ice to make sure the success for us continues down the stretch here."
Even with scoring from a defenseman, the downfall for Penn State on Saturday was penalties. The Lions were called for seven throughout the game, and MSU capitalized twice.
Late in the third, the Blue and White trailed by two. Forward Casey Bailey helped bring his team within one with his 20th goal of the season, but the comeback fell short. Penn State was unable to nab the tying goal in the final seconds.
"I think we have to continue to build off last night," Varley said. "We didn't get the result we wanted, but we played better and got back to our game. So, we're going to continue to work on our game, play the way that gives us success and good things will happen."
With a dangerous Minnesota team coming to Hockey Valley this upcoming weekend, Penn State know its needs to learn from the mistakes made in Michigan. The team also knows, it needs to keep those games in the past and focus on this next series.
"We just know that it's behind us at this point," said Thompson. "We're going to watch some film. We're going to figure out some stuff and what we can do, but at the end of the day we just need to make sure we're committed. It's a huge weekend coming up here when it comes to standings and of course our place in national rankings.
"We know that Minnesota is a great team. They have been for a very long time. It's going to be a great weekend coming in here, so we need to make sure that we take some lessons from this past weekend. If we do that, we'll be able to piece it together."