Guy Gadowsky came into the post-game press conference with immense praise for how his team played. He knows his team was better, but even the best teams run into problems sometimes.
The problem in this game was not Michigan State. Penn State essentially dominated the Spartans for the majority of the game, doubling up their shot total of 24 with 48 of its own.
The Nittany Lions’ problem was Michigan State goalie John Lethemon.
Coming into the game, the senior held a .918 save percentage. That isn’t bad for a Big Ten goalie, but it certainly doesn’t scream “unbeatable.”
Tonight, however, he was.
“He had a lot of those Grade-A chances, so good on him. Hopefully he doesn’t do that tomorrow,” Liam Folkes said, cracking a smile.
Folkes had five recorded shots on the scoresheet, but he attempted at least double that. The Michigan State defense did a great job of block shots, blocking 31. That stat becomes even more impressive when you remember that Penn State had 48 official shots to begin with.
“Not one of those feels good, I can guarantee you that,” Kris Myllari said.
Lethemon also stopped numerous breakaways from several different players, including Folkes more than once.
“It’s just how you come back the next night,” Folkes said. “Hopefully their goalie doesn’t save every single shot you take.”
Folkes was very adamant that he is just hoping Lethemon won’t do it again tomorrow.
In games like this one, there becomes a very present yet underlying feeling of frustration, and sometimes it bobs up to the surface.
Late in the third period, Tyler Gratton took a shot that looked like it had a great chance of going in, but was, of course, denied by Lethemon. Gratton put all his weight on his stick and snapped it in half before contemplating smashing it on the ice.
While that is clearly just a case of frustration, a goalie swallowing everything shot his way can really take away from the morale of the team.
Except it didn’t affect Penn State. From the opening faceoff, they owned the Spartans on both ends of the ice. Somehow, Penn State was able to keep its cool and keep firing away. The team got no luck, however.
“We’ll take that game 99 times out of 100,” Myllari said.
This game was an extreme case of why hockey is such a unique game. No matter how much better one team is than another, there is always a chance that things won’t go their way.
See the United States versus the Soviet Union in 1980 as an example.
Even though they were shut out, the Nittany Lions played one of their most solid games of the year, including goalie Peyton Jones, who had 22 saves and one blemish that was hardly his fault.
“After the game, [the mentality] is not to be frustrated and say ‘we need to change things’ because I thought we played really, really well,” Gadowsky said.
So what is the team supposed to do in the face of a hot goalie?
“You try to change it,” Gadowsky said.
But as seen in this game, it isn’t always that easy.
“We do have to somehow change the mojo that he had going and we weren’t able to do it,” Gadowsky said.
For the Nittany Lions, they should hope that ‘mojo’ doesn’t carry over into tomorrow, but sometimes all it takes is one goal to open the flood gates.