STATE COLLEGE – The story went exactly as it was supposed to here Friday night. The $102 million Pegula Ice Arena came with every bell and whistle as promised, the crowd with every decibel of sound it envisioned, and in the end, a victory for the home side.
Penn State defeated Army 4-1 in front of a sell-out, standing room only crowd of 6,307 in the season-opener of the 2013-2014 men's hockey season and first game in the arena after its dedication earlier Friday.
The Lions never trailed, as defenseman Nate Jensen pounded home a drive from the slot that escaped Army netminder Rob Tadazak before the game was four minutes old, ahead of State (1-0) adding three goals in the third period to cement its first victory.
"It was a tremendous night. The student section was definitely the first star tonight," Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky said afterward. "It was such a great night all-around, a tremendous night for the Pegulas and [Penn State Associate Athletic Director for Ice Arena and Hockey Development] Joe Battista.
"To come away with a victory, it felt great. The atmosphere was tremendous, right from walking out on the bench. That was a pretty phenomenal feeling."
There were certainly charged emotions for this night. After all, it was the night they had anticipated for so long. Army head coach Brian Riley called it a great college atmosphere, and his goalie, game third-star Rob Tadazak, said the student-section he played in front of for two periods made the game enjoyable.
Perhaps nothing was more motivating, though, than the speech Terry Pegula, the natural gas billionaire and arena funder and namesake, gave Gadowsky's troops before the game.
In a perfect world, he said he would have liked Pegula's speech to come earlier in the day, knowing full well the effect it would have on his team. Instead, it came at 6:45 p.m., less than two hours before puck drop. The head coach said any preparation he and his staff had done to settle their men was quickly tossed out the window.
"The guys were ready to chew nails after he left. It was so cool watching the student section and it was huge highlight, obviously the players with the student section at the end of game was something I'll never forget, but Mr. Pegula addressing the guys; they were absolutely ready to tear through metal," Gadowsky said.
"He spoke about how his achieved what he did, and his love for Penn State. He made a couple of movie references in terms of the beautiful building attitude. He mentioned the ‘Dirty Dozen' and how he would like to see his team take over that moniker and that attitude you have to carry with you to do it in a beautiful building."
That feisty attitude is certainly a plus for any Big Ten program, but can come at a price, as Penn State found out when it lost third-line center Kenny Brooks for most of the game after a first-period checking from behind major resulted in his dismissal from the contest.
It could be seen as the start of a trend on this night, one where Penn State took 10 penalties though killed nine of them, the single blemish coming when Army defender Mac Lalor beat Skoff stick side on a 5-on-3 to pull the Knights' within two at 3-1 with just under five minutes to play. It was one of two 5-on-3 situations for Army, which also had a five minute power play killed by Penn State as a result of the Brooks major.
Riley said the Knights' struggles on the power play could have been due to just having a week to prepare for the game, but wouldn't offer it as an excuse for his team's 1-for-10 outing. Instead, he credited Penn State's defense, one which blocked 18 shots, including five from first pairing defenseman Patrick Koudys.
"Actually, Joe and I were talking this afternoon about how things are going and our expectations, and the last thing he said to me was ‘we just can't take a lot of penalties because guys are so jacked up.' I think that's what happened, and some of that was poor technique too," Gadowsky said.
"We didn't want to kill a couple of penalties in five minutes. That certainly wasn't the game plan, but the new guys played huge role in my mind. Everyone played very well. Patrick Koudys was an absolute man tonight."
After a listless second period, Penn State rounded into form in the third, going up 2-0 3:24 into the final stanza when Curtis Loik blasted a wrister past Tadazak after Zach Saar's block at the Penn State blue line sprung him all alone into Knight territory. Forward David Goodwin would then increase the lead to three on a Lions' three-on-zero jailbreak, slinging it past Tadazak blocker side. Penn State closed out its scoring with an empty-netter from Eric Scheid with 25 seconds to play.
Penn State goaltender Matthew Skoff was the first star, followed by Goodwin and Tadazak. In total, State outshot the Knights 35-26, and also owned a 48-32 advantage in the face-off dot.
"It was pretty crazy. The only thing I really remember was Dylan Richard behind me, and I thought we had at least a two-on-zero, but later I found out we had three-on-zero," Goodwin said. ""I heard Richard yelling at me don't hold up, so I said, alright, I'll just shoot it."
Skoff was brilliant, turning away 26 Army shots while providing a steady presence when the Lions were on the kill. Gadowsky said he chose him over freshman Eamon McAdam and junior P.J. Musico because he had the best week of practice, but his play last year, which netted nine wins, certainly didn't hurt.
Penn State will return to the ice Oct. 18 when it heads to Air Force for a Friday/Saturday double header, and returns to Pegula next Oct. 25 when it faces RIT. It's a moment Gadowsky said he is eager to reach.
"I can't wait to get back. I can't wait to do this again. It's so fun and so motivating to play. It's great to look at, and you feel it, but what it does for you is special. You can see after [Curtis] Loik scored and he jumped into the glass and [David] Goodwin [scored]. It's so motivating," Gadowsky said.
"There was six minutes left to go in the game, I look to the right, and they're carrying the [Nittany Lion] up this steep incline. It was impressive."