No.10 Penn State hockey leaned on strong goaltending and consistent offense Friday night to beat No.13 Princeton 4-2, improving to 5-0 on the year. The mark is the best start in the program’s young history.
In a year when the Nittany Lions have found scoring from all four lines, it was Denis Smirnov opening the evening’s action with a breakaway goal thanks to a feed from Alex Stevens to give Penn State a 1-0 lead 1:46 into regulation. From there is Alex Limoges’ high redirection just minutes later giving the Nittany Lions a 2-0 margin, electrifying Pegula Ice Arena.
Princeton -opening its season Friday night- would eventually knock off the rust, the Tigers finding their skates, firing back to take a 16-15 shot advantage into the first intermission despite trailing on the scoreboard 2-0. In reality several missed chances kept the margin from being much wider.
Overall Peyton Jones was sharp in goal stopping 34 shots but Matthew Thom found the back of the net 2:37 into the second period to cut the lead to one.
But of the many things Penn State has done well in its opening five games of the season, an ability to bounce back following opponents’ goals has been one of its greatest strengths so far. Brandon Biro continued that trend as Nate Sucese beat out an icing call, slamming a puck in Biro’s direction, his linemate roofing a close-quarters shot into the net just 3:03 after Princeton’s first goal of the night.
“To me, the play of the night was Nate Sucese,” Coach Guy Gadowsky said. “He showed so much speed and so much courage to go in dangerous areas, and just an unbelievable job to fore-check that puck for [Biro].”
Princeton would once again score early the period, slotting a puck past Jones on the fifth Tigers’ power play of the night just 2:23 into the third.
And once again Penn State responded. Ludvig Larsson -who went 20-3 at the faceoff dot- found paydirt just 2:17 after Princeton’s second, yet again pushing the lead to a two-goal margin.
“Those rebound goals feel so much better than the other ones,” Gadowsky added.
Penn State and Princeton will conclude the series later in the season with Friday night’s action the only of the weekend for the Nittany Lions. Following an extra day of rest Penn State will host Arizona State for a weekend before splitting a home/away series against Robert Morris to close out the non conference slate.
Jones’ win is his third of the year. Also of note, defenseman Kevin Kerr also made his season debut after an offseason re-injury issue kept him sidelined the opening two weekends.
The Nittany Lions will be tested as Big Ten play draws closer, but with three wins against Top 20 teams and NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago under its belt, Penn State will have a hard time finding fault with how the season has started.