STATE COLLEGE – The first eight minutes rarely decide a hockey game, or any sporting contest, really. But Friday night at Pegula Ice Arena, they did.
Penn State came out firing on all cylinders against visiting Sacred Heart in the first 20 minutes of play. It scored just under four minutes in when defenseman Luke Juha pounded a puck off Pioneer goalie Alex Vazzano's blocker that trickled into the net, and then again at the 8:04 mark when forward Ricky DeRosa cleaned up a rebound to put State up by two. It outshot the visitors by a whopping 16-3 margin, and skated three times on the man advantage to Sacred Heart's two.
And on this night, that was enough to hang on for a 2-1 win against a program, Sacred Heart, which downed one-time top ranked UMASS-Lowell but now has fallen to 2-6-0. It was enough for Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky to be pleased after a victory, unlike he was following a 5-4 win over Robert Morris last Friday. And it was enough to overcome a late Sacred Heart marker from defenseman Will Raynor.
"If you look at the objectives, at least in terms of the shots, I think the first period was the best in attacking and odd-man rushes as well, but it was certainly indicative of what we want to see as a team in terms of results," Gadowsky said. "If you look at the results and how we want to do things as a team, we want to play offense.
"We try to generate as much offense without giving up huge offensive chances, and I don't think we did. I know we left in one, but aside from that. As far as what I'd like to see at Pegula, getting 40 [shots] and giving up 20, yes."
Play of the Game: It won't show up in the box score, and a careful scan on the game play-by-play probably wouldn't show it either. But Juha's poise and awareness late in the second period was perhaps bigger than his first-period goal, for it kept one out of the net in a rare moment when Sacred Heart was showing offensive presence.
The Pioneers had struggled to get anything behind Skoff, and even anything at him, for much of the first 40 minutes of play. But a boarding penalty whistled against Lion forward Zach Saar finally sparked life from the visitors, who rattled off eight shots in the two minutes Saar sat. And one trickled between Skoff's legs.
It could have proved to be a momentum killer for the Lions, who frankly struggled to find much flow itself in the second. Instead, Juha, who was fixed in front of the net on penalty killing duties, swept behind Skoff, who later said he didn't know where the puck was, and toe-dragged it off the goal line. It was not ruled a goal on the ice, a call later upheld by official review.
But make no mistake: it was close.
"It's the classic story of being at the right place at the right time," Juha said. "I was in front of the net and saw the puck trickle behind Skoff, and it was pretty instinctive and something that every D wants to be doing.
"I'd say it was [pretty close] to going in. I knew it wasn't a goal when they went back and looked at it."
Penn State went on to kill the penalty, and close out the second with its two goal lead still in-tact.
Three Stars: DeRosa was the game's first start as voted by the media, with Juha taking the second, and Vazzano the third.
Defenseman David Thompson didn't make that list, but to Gadowsky, he was the player of the game wearing a blue and white sweater. He only registered two shots and was credited with a pair of blocks, but in the mind of his head coach, that wasn't an indication of the way he played.
"The best player on ice was David Thompson. He blocked a ton of shots, made great passes. He was awesome," Gadowsky said. "He was actually tremendous out there. Him with [defenseman Patrick] Koudys was a terrible defensive pair to play against.
"He had a great game, and was the best player by far. That was his best game."
Vazzano had an argument for the top star. The Sacred Heart goalie finished with 37 saves on 39 Penn State shots.
Late Push: Skoff is not one to worry about his final stat line. Instead, it's a ‘W' at the end of the night that matters to the sophomore netminder.
Still, Gadowsky and his teammates expressed that they felt bad that he was denied his first shut-out of the season in the dying minutes of the third. It was came with Sacred Heart skating six-on-four with its goalie pulled and a Penn State skater, David Goodwin, off for interference.
The Pioneers worked the zone with a cycle through the slot, eventually getting a David Iacono shot to bounce around in front long enough for defenseman Will Rayner to pound it past the Lion netminder. Only 31 seconds remained, and the Pioneers never seriously threatened again.
"I was talking with [back-up goaltender] PJ [Musico] about it. We both want to know who said shut-out in the stands," Skoff quipped. "It really is what it is. I'd rather take the win.
• Penn State lost starting center Taylor Holstrom with what Gadowsky coined a lower body injury in the first period. His absence showed, as the Lions lost the face-off dot 42-32. Gadowsky said afterward he expected Holstrom back next week.
• Penn State had its third goal waived off early in the third period after official review determined forward Casey Bailey had kicked the puck in.
• After playing in the first six games, forward Curtis Loik was a healthy scratch Friday night. Gadowsky would only say he was not injured.
• Catching up with the weekly conversations about penalties, Penn State skated to a 1-for-7 mark on the power play, while Sacred Heart was 1-for-8. Both sides at times disagreed with penalty calls, and in our view, they had a good reason. Despite being again whistled for more penalties than it drew, we'll write this one off.
• Gadowsky said he thought his club was closer to playing a full 60-minutes days after he informed the media it was one of the things he was looking for.
• Juha's goal drew him into a leader with forward Eric Sheid for the team lead with three a piece.