Penn State fans will be happy to know that freshman goaltender Matt Skoff was once verbally committed to the Ohio State Buckeyes before changing his mind to play his college hockey with the Nittany Lions.
The McKees Rock, Pa. native said his decision to decommit was “a combination of things” but simply based his decision on him feeling not comfortable in Columbus.
“I just wanted a fresh, new start,” Skoff said. “I was lucky enough to get a call from Penn State and it worked out here.”
The 20-year-old freshman arrived at Penn State after three seasons with the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League (USHL). While there, Skoff tied a club record with six shutouts during the 2011-12 season while accumulating a 66-55-15 career record.
At the start of the season the Nittany Lions didn’t have a set starting goaltender, which created a competition between Skoff and sophomore P.J. Musico.
The pair has split time in Penn State’s 23 games played so far this season. Skoff has made 14 starts while Musico has started nine games in the program’s inaugural season.
Early on in the season, it appeared that Musico would be the go-to goaltender after Skoff struggled to get acclimated to the lifestyle and speed of the college game.
“To move up in the levels you’re going to have to get used to changing your environment,” Skoff said. “This is a good growing process for a lot of freshmen.”
Skoff was ultimately given enough starts and got more comfortable keeping the puck out of the net.
While the competition between the netminders has continued throughout the season, it has always been friendly. Lions’ coach Guy Gadowsky said he thinks the competition has brought the best out of both of them.
Musico is the more athletic goalie, and Skoff said he focuses more on being square when making saves. With Skoff bringing in his work habits, there have also been changes in the way the Lions play. In the middle of play, Skoff can be heard from the stands directing traffic and working with his defensemen to keep the puck out of the net. As a result, Musico has been more vocal when he is in net.
“I don’t think I’ve gotten along with a partner of mine better than Matthew Skoff,” Musico said, who spent last season with the Penn State Icers ACHA club team. “I think it’s really good healthy competition. Obviously you’re going to be fighting with your partner for playing time. It betters me and it betters himself also. So, it’s really a great situation.”
At times both have shown promise. The team’s schedule has it matched up with opponents of different levels. When the Nittany Lions faced the eighth-ranked Union Dutchmen back on Nov. 28-29, Skoff stopped 82 of 88 shots on the weekend. Even though the team was swept, Skoff said that he prefers to face a lot of shots because it allows him to get in a groove.
Gadowsky said that they are on the same mental cycle, which has left the coaching staff to make a difficult decision on the starting goaltender from game to game. Gadowsky said he not only looks at the statistics, but he said he will also make his decision based on who works the hardest in practice.
“Skoff has been a workhorse his whole life,” Gadowsky said. “It’s part of who he is.”
“I think we’re two totally different goalies,” Skoff said. “I’m more of a quick butterfly style goalie. I don’t try to be out of the ordinary, I just try to be there where the puck is.”
Skoff said that he tries to model his game after Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Skoff and Fleury are also similar in size. Skoff is 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds while Fleury is 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds.
“I won’t quit on a puck and I’ll do anything to stop a puck,” Skoff said.
Even though there are some differences in the Lions’ goalies, Skoff said he does have one small thing in common with his counterpart — on occasion, he’ll juggle to work on his hand-eye coordination.