Taylor Holstrom’s game-winning goal against No. 16 Wisconsin meant so much more than another tally to Penn State’s victory total this season.
It meant three unanswered goals for a 3-2 comeback win in overtime.
It also meant Penn State’s first defeat against a ranked opponent, and the last goal in the last game of the Nittany Lions’ inaugural NCAA Division I season.
And it meant a lot more for the future of the program.
Some have said Penn State wouldn’t win a game against its future Big Ten rivals this year. Some still hold that statement true for next year.
Coach Guy Gadowsky said that there are coaches who believe Penn State won’t win a game in its first year of conference play.
The team had to have changed the critics’ minds after it defeated the Badgers Monday night. This win shaped a winning record of 3-2 against future Big Ten opponents. The other two wins came from Michigan State and Ohio State.
Just because Penn State completed its first NCAA season doesn’t mean it has rookies on the ice. Most of the team hails from junior hockey leagues in either the United States or Canada.
Air Force coach Frank Serratore mentioned the same idea after his team beat Penn State 5-1 on Nov. 9 at Greenberg Ice Pavilion.
“Everybody wants to make Penn State as this fledgling program, but all of their players are from the USHL or the [Eastern] Junior Hockey league,” Serratore said.
The coach mentioned Holstrom, who broke out as an offensive power near the middle of the season. The junior forward finished fourth among points on the team, with 17 (nine goals, eight assists), two of those came from goals in Monday’s contest against the Badgers.
Holstrom transferred from Mercyhurst, a Division I team in the Atlantic Hockey conference, where the Penn State junior was named Rookie of the Year as a freshman in his 2010-2011 season.
Serratore dropped other names, like junior defensman Nate Jensen, freshman defenseman Joseph Lordo and sophomore forward Max Gardiner.
The St. Louis Blues selected Gardiner in the third round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. The 6-foot-3 forward also played at Minnesota, where Serratore said Gardiner was “good enough to get a scholarship.”
All in all, Penn State has a solid group of players that make a good foundation for the future.
“Hey, they’re legit,” Serratore said of Penn State. “They might be a little on the young side, but they have some 20 or 21-year old freshmen out there. So, it’s not like they’re a bunch of little children with peach fuzz on their face. Those kids — they’ve got legit resumes.”
Penn State may need more experience, but that comes with time and can’t be instantly instilled in its players. However, this first year has prepared them for many situational occurrences.
The Lions played with Atlantic Hockey and future Big Ten opponents, and came out with notable wins against Air Force, Rochester Institute of Technology and more recently Wisconsin. The team showed improvement, by winning eight out of its last nine games. They finish with a record of 13-14-0.
The Lions played in two NHL-sized arenas, the Consol Energy Arena and Wells Fargo Center, which gave a preview to the sheet size next season at the team’s new home, Pegula Ice Arena. At the Wells Fargo Center, the Lions played in front of the largest college hockey crowd in a NHL arena, 19,529 people, and they sold out nearly all of their home games at Greenberg Ice Pavilion.
Serratore said he knows some of the recruits the team has for the next two years, saying, “they’ve got some big guys coming in.”
He said it wouldn’t be long before Penn State is even with those teams in the Big Ten.
“Let’s just face it, you add those other Big Ten teams, add Notre Dame, add Boston College and a few others, that’s the BCS of college hockey,” Serratore said.
“And [Penn State’s] going to be right there in the thick of things.”