EAST LANSING, Mich. – Naturally, a first-year program is going to have a lot of firsts.
Penn State added more firsts to the history books in the weekend’s pair of games at the Munn Ice Arena against the Michigan State Spartans.
It wasn’t just the first road trip to a Big Ten school or just the first win on the road at a Big Ten school — Saturday night’s game marked the first time that the Nittany Lions came back to win when trailing after the first period.
The Lions have had rough starts all season. The first period has been a struggle for them, having been outscored 22-16.
Freshman goalie Matt Skoff said the win was huge for the program.
“That was a big, big character win for the team,” freshman goalie Matt Skoff said after the win. “Especially going down [by two] in our first Big Ten away weekend. It’s huge for us to come back like that…It says a lot about our team, how we don’t quit.”
Penn State looked to have been outmatched by the Spartans in the first period, Friday night. The Lions looked more like deer in the headlights. They were outshot 12-7 with most shots coming towards the end of the period.
“We were very excited to be at Michigan State and watched a lot,” head coach Guy Gadowsky said on Friday. “I think we were in awe a little bit and wanted to see what was going on, but I think once we realized we deserved to be on the ice.”
Despite the rough start, Gadowsky said he thought the team played hard for the remainder of the game and even had a chance to win.
The Spartans eventually capitalized on a late power play after freshman defenseman Connor Varley was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for checking from behind. The home team added an empty net goal to clinch the 5-3 win with under a minute to play.
Saturday night’s contest only appeared to be a poor start based on the score, but Gadowsky said that he thought the team was playing well. The Nittany Lions even outshot the Spartans 19-14 in the first period.
The first goal from freshman defensemen Mark Yanis early in the first got the team going and carried on through the rest of the game, Gadowsky said.
Even after the Nittany Lions took the lead, Penn State held their ground despite late desperate effort by the Spartans.
Gadowsky said the coaching staff told the team to “keep doing what you’re doing.”
The program has gone through some growing pains in its first season, having lost to Division III programs twice, but junior center Taylor Holstrom said the win against a Big Ten team on the road speaks for itself.
Holstrom also said the team is starting to take to the identity that they want Penn State hockey to be.
“We’re a first-year team, but we have a lot of character,” Holstrom said. “We’re buying into our systems already, which is huge, especially for a first-year team.”