College hockey is like all sports in that if you want to be THE man (or woman), you have to beat THE man (or woman).
That’s the position upstart Penn State found itself in for the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional final against Denver at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati Sunday evening. http://www.scout.com/college/football/recruiting/story/1765860-penn-stat...
In only their fifth year at the Division I level, the Nittany Lions stunned the college hockey world by rebounding from a rough end of the regular season to win their first Big Ten Tournament title and to earn their first trip to NCAAs.
The regional semifinal Saturday saw Guy Gadowsky’s team put a 10-3 beat-down on Union (N.Y.), a program that — while it won the NCAA title in 2014 — is not exactly steeped in championship tradition.
Sunday’s matchup was a much different challenge.
In one corner, you had Midwest No. 3 seed Penn State, playing in only its second NCAA game of all time.
In the other were the No. 1 overall seed Pioneers, who were making their 28th NCAA Tournament appearance. They’ve been to 15 Frozen Fours and won seven national championship.
And now they’ll be going to their 16th Frozen Four.
Denver (31-7-4) broke open a tight game during the second period and cruised to the 6-3 victory. The Nittany Lions finished their breakout season at 25-12-2.
Penn State fell into a 2-0 hole just over seven minutes into the game, and seemed to be in serious trouble when Denver went on the power play.
But with five minutes left in the period, the Lions got loose on a 2-on-1 shorthanded breakout. Ricky DeRosa put the puck on goal and teammate Nikita Pavlychev tapped it in to cut the lead to 2-1.
PSU went on to kill the penalty and survived the opening stanza trailing by only a goal.
Early in the second period the Pioneers got another power play and PSU got another short-handed tally. This time Denis Smirnov fired in an unassisted goal past Tanner Jailett, and just like that the score was tied 2-2.
A few minutes later, Denver went on yet another power play and the Pioneers made the most of this one. Troy Terry came out of a scramble near mid-ice and the sniper found the net behind Lion keeper Peyton Jones.
It was 3-2 as the midway point of the game hit. Denver had been on three power players, Penn State had been on none.
Regardless, from that point the Pioneers began to look a lot like the NCAA Tournament veterans they were while the Nittany Lions looked a lot like a team that was new to championship play.
Denver tacked on two more goals in the second period — the second during a four-on-four situation — to blow it open, 5-2.
Early in the third, Penn State got a five-minute power play off a Denver boarding penalty. So the Lions had a chance to score as many times as they could with the man advantage for all five minutes.
But the PSU did not control the puck in the zone until the final minute of the power play and managed only one clean shot — Jailett easily gloved it.
However, Penn State never did roll over. With seven and a half minutes left, James Gobetz had a hard slapshot from just inside the blue line that somehow found its way through traffic and into the top right of the net. It cut the deficit to 5-3.
Penn State pulled Jones with three and a half minutes to go for a six-on-five edge. But Terry scored his third goal of the game on the empty-netter with 2:14 showing to effectively end it.