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By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
DETROIT - As the puck dropped for the first period of the Big Ten Championship game Saturday night, Penn State men's hockey freshman goaltender Peyton Jones stared down the ice, knowing he was only one game away from helping secure Penn State's first conference title. Little did he know that Penn State would go on to defeat Wisconsin, 2-1, in yet another a nail-biting 2-1 double overtime victory.
Despite playing all 93:33 minutes in net in the double overtime victory against Minnesota the night before, Jones felt fresh heading into the Championship game.
"I just take it one second at a time," Jones said. "It's tough, it's a mental battle but I just take it one second at a time, keep telling myself to stay focused and keep locked on the puck and just go from there."
Saturday night's contest was challenging, and the Badgers fired everything they had at Jones, hoping to trip him up. However, Jones was ready, and kept a keen eye on the Badgers offense.
After a first period goal Saturday night from freshman forward Liam Folkes, Jones took a deep breath, knowing his offense was doing its job, so he could do his. During the first period, Wisconsin challenged Jones several times, forcing him to make a few close saves to keep the Badgers off the board. With 40 seconds left to play, Jones made his seventh save of the period, securing the Nittany Lions a 1-0 lead heading into intermission.
During the second period, both teams were unable to score, but that didn't mean the Badgers didn't test Jones' focus. With eight saves during the second period, Jones once again outsmarted Badgers. As the clock ticked down on the period, Jones denied a couple of the Badgers' offense men at the doorstep, coming in clutch to keep Penn State up by one.
The Badgers tied it up at a goal each during the third period, forcing the game into overtime. As the game continued, and looked as if it would head to overtime, Jones kept a level eye on the task at hand, making 17 saves during the third period.
"For me, last night and tonight especially, I felt like as we got into the third period and the first overtime I was heating up," Jones said. "I felt really good, I was making a lot of saves, the glove saves were going right into my pocket, shots to my chest I was keeping in and shots to my stick I putting into the corners, so I felt really good."
From the other end of the ice in double overtime, Jones had a straight shot of Folkes' second, and game winning, goal of the night. Folkes was able to end the game with 6:43 left in the double overtime, thanks to a great feed from freshman forward Brandon Biro that gave him a breakaway. Jones saw the set up and execution, but wasn't able to wrap his head around that the Nittany Lions had won.
"To be honest, I was shocked," Jones said of his reaction to Folkes' goal. "I threw my hands in the air and I didn't know what to do. That was probably the most shocked and just hit with excitement I've been in a while. It was awesome, it's a feeling I can't describe."
Jones was named Most Outstanding Player during the postgame awards presentation, after securing 51 shots on Saturday night, but Jones said he couldn't take the credit for taking down the Badgers.
"I don't think I won a hockey game for my team," Jones said. "To be honest, I made a ton of saves but I couldn't make those saves without those guys on the team. The defensemen, they're tremendous, every one of them blocking shots, keeping pucks out of the zone, forwards taking hits to get pucks out of the zone, I couldn't have done what I did tonight without them."
Jones spoke of how the team celebrated the first conference championship for the program, saying it was nice to just take in the moment.
"A lot of fun, everyone's fired up," Jones said. "Everyone's very happy and I'm happy with this team. There's a lot of heart, a lot of character in that locker room and you can tell. Ten periods of hockey in 24 hours isn't easy."