It seems like only a few months ago that Penn State hockey broke ground on Pegula Ice Arena and just a few weeks since the Nittany Lions dropped the puck for the first-ever game in the rink.
But in reality it has been years, in fact just over five years since a crowd of well over 6,000 fans packed inside the building for a 4-1 victory over Army. Since then there have been 98 games both in the regular season and two in the postseason.
And this Saturday’s game against Arizona State will mark the 100th in the building for the men’s hockey program. A landmark that has featured big wins, last second losses and history all along the way.
100 is a lot, and games can get lost in the shuffle, but here are 10 of the best that have helped define the direction of Penn State hockey over the past half decade.
1. Penn State 4 Army 1 in 2013-14
It’s hard to do much better than the very first game in a brand new building. To be honest, the game itself wasn’t overly exciting but a blast from the point by Nate Jensen gave Penn State it’s first goal in the arena and sent a packed house into a frenzy. The Nittany Lions would go on to win 4-1 and 8-26-2 overall on the year, but this was a moment not to forget and a game that turned a dream of a real Division I hockey program into reality.
2. Penn State 3 Minnesota 4 (OT) in 2016-17
If it wasn’t for the opener this game would be the top of the list, and yes it’s a Penn State loss. But this game had everything.
Heading into the Saturday night contest Penn State had lost 6-3 the night before and the Nittany Lions were clinging to their postseason hopes, desperately in need of a victory. For two periods Penn State poured it on, leading 2-0 heading into the third period and with the crowd at its back.
But then Minnesota scored, and then with just minutes remaining scored again. The game was tied.
That was until Denis Smirnov was pulled down from behind on a rush and the referee pointed for a penalty shot with just under two minutes to play in regulation, the game tied.
Smirnov would skate the length of the ice, slotting the puck between the legs of Minnesota’s goalie and racing to jump into the arms of an emotional Penn State bench. Perhaps the loudest moment in the building’s history.
But with four seconds to go following an offensive zone draw, Minnesota scored, tying the game and ripping the hearts out of the Nittany Lions. From there it was little surprise when Minnesota eventually won in overtime, and Penn State would end up making the NCAA Tournament anyway. Even so, this game is as memorable as they come and you won’t find many with more late game dramatics.
3. Penn State 4 No. 10 Michigan 0 in 2013-14
This was your sterotypical Penn State hockey game in the earliest years of the program. A ranked team showing up, somewhat assuming the Nittany Lions were not very good, and getting tested far more than expected. Usually those ranked teams would end up winning, but on the second night of this series Penn State went from losing 7-3 the game prior to a 4-0 shutout against the No.10 ranked Wolverines. It marked Penn State’s first win in Big Ten play as Matt Skoff made 32 saves in the shutout effort.
Penn State made an odd habit of beating Michigan over the next 24 months despite the Wolverines being the better team on paper, and in some eyes, the Nittany Lions’ upsets kept Michigan out of the postseason this year. Penn State beat Michigan again that season with a double overtime in the Big Ten Tournament a few weeks later.
4. Penn State 4 Ohio State 5 (OT) in 2014-15
A third period hat trick by Casey Bailey and his hammer of a shot makes this game a memorable one. Ohio State had been something of a thorn in Penn State’s side over the span of the early years and the Buckeyes were once again looking to make it an easy win ahead 4-0 in the third period.
And then Casey Bailey happened, three goals in a period, including the game-tying goal with 22 seconds to go in regulation. Pegula Ice Arena went into a frenzy. All four goal in just over 13 minutes.
In overtime there was more drama, Erik Autio seemingly tripped, or hooked -depending who you ask- giving away the puck and setting up a rush that would lead to a fairly straightforward goal past Penn State goalie PJ Music. Guy Gadowsky was livid on the bench, even after the game looking for a replay from TV cameras in the media room. This game is another loss in the Top 5, but it was a great showcase of what Bailey could do, and coupled with overtime drama and controversy, it’s a hard one to forget.
5. Penn State 4 Michigan 3 in 2014-15
This game marked two noteworthy things. First a home sweep of Michigan and second, the first every winning season in program history. After a busy first period from both teams, Penn State would add another two goals to go up 4-2 after two periods of play. Michigan would score late, but never found a way for a miracle tying goal. Penn State would end up just missing out of the NCAA Tournament for the first time, but three wins over Michigan and a 10-win season in Big Ten play was still a noteworthy achievement.
6. Penn State 3 Ohio State 3 in 2016-17
The first game as Penn State ranked No.1 in the nation was a learning moment for the program. Penn State would lead in this game by a goal on three occasions with Ohio State erasing that lead each time, the final tying goal coming with roughly six minutes to play. Penn State couldn’t find a winner in regulation or overtime and would go on to lose the shootout.
Penn State would lose the next night and go on to hit a rough patch in the coming weeks but would eventually make the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever this season.
7. Penn State 6 Minnesota 5 in 2017-18
Guy Gadowsky would openly admit later that he never thought they could pull this off. Sitting on the NCAA Tournament bubble Penn State essentially needed four straight wins against Minnesota, two to close out the regular season and two more in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. All four at home, all for crucial, all against a team Penn State rarely beats.
And the Nittany Lions did just that, and did it in impressive fashion. This game wasn’t as close as the score might indicate and marked the end of what seemed like an impossible ask just a week prior. For a second straight season the Nittany Lions were headed to the postseason.
8. Penn State 4 Minnesota 3 (OT) in 2014-15
Luke Juha sent a shot through traffic in overtime and it found the back of the net giving Penn State its first win over Minnesota in program history. Of course it wasn’t always that easy, Minnesota tying the game with 20 seconds to play with the Nittany Lions taking a 3-2 lead into the final period of play.
PJ Musico made 32 saves on the night and the Nittany Lions wouldn’t lose again at home that year, beating Michigan twice to close out the home slate two weeks later.
9. Penn State 5 Notre Dame 3 in 2015-16
This falls slightly under the category of novelty game more than meaningful, but Penn State’s 5-3 win early in the year over Notre Dame wasn’t without meaning. Penn State was starting off a hopeful 2015-16 season with quiet NCAA Tournament hopes and this win helped the cause. Eamon McAdam would make 30 saves as Curtis Loik’s empty net goal in the third period sealed the deal.
Penn State started this season 5-1 and would come up just short of the NCAA Tournament but proved with 21 wins that the Nittany Lions were no longer just the new kids on the block.
10. Penn State 6 Wisconsin 0 in 2016-17
Having lost the night prior to the tune of 7-4, Penn State needed a win to help sure up its first ever postseason bid, and boy did it get the job done. A 6-0 victory wasn’t all that entertaining to watch, but it was a history moment as Penn State skated an all-senior line late in the game, Zach Saar scoring a goal late as a forward to put the icing on the cake. Penn State would go on to win the Big Ten Tournament over the next weekend and beat Union 10-3 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before losing to Denver 6-3.