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Penn State hockey splits home opener

Penn State hockey split its 2023-24 home opening series, the first loss on a young season for the Nittany Lions.



Penn State hockey
Penn State goaltender Liam Souliere (31) falls into the net while keeping his eye on the puck against Michigan State Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023. Michigan State Penn State 12

Penn State hockey returned to the friendly confines of Pegula Ice Arena this weekend for the first time this season. While the Nittany Lions went undefeated on their three-game road trip, Penn State (3-0-0, 0-0-0 B1G) was happy to get home.

The wins last weekend, at Clarkson and St. Lawrence, were enough to propel Penn State into the top 15 for the first time this year, jumping from No. 18 to No. 12. The Nittany Lions were happy to put their newly minted ranking to the test in front of one of the most raucous environments in college hockey. The American International College Yellow Jackets (0-3-0, 0-0-0 AHA) were the opponent, returning to Pegula for the first time since 2017. However, unfortunately for the home crowd, Penn State couldn’t keep its unbeaten record alive, splitting the series with AIC. 

Penn State hockey rallies to win home opener

First Period

You would think the Nittany Lions would come out firing, eager to get a goal for the home fans. That is exactly what they did, even if they weren’t able to find the back of the net. After a quick feeling-out process for both offenses, the Nittany Lions started peppering the AIC net. 

The Yellow Jackets goaltender, Nils Wallstrom, was ready for it. He stopped 12 of the 12 shots he faced in the period. With no goals or penalties, it was a rather uneventful period, even if it was dominated by Penn State. 

Second Period

Things started to open up a bit more in the middle frame. Junior forward Ryan Kirwan blocked an AIC shot attempt, and the ricochet bounced right to senior forward Xander Lamppa, setting up a three-on-one. In a case of instant hockey karma, Kirwan would be rewarded for his block. He received a pass from Lamppa and fired it into the net for a Penn State goal to make it 1-0. 

It seemed as if Penn State hockey would run away with it from there. But the Yellow Jackets were able to claw their way back in. Just two minutes after the Lions opened the scoring, AIC scored a goal of its own on an awkward play. A player was tripped and just fired the puck in the crease, where Jordan Biro was lying down. The puck deflected off him and into the net, allowing the brother of former Nittany Lion Brandon Biro to get on the scoresheet in his brother’s old home rink. There was also a penalty called on the Nittany Lions for the initial trip. 

The Yellow Jackets were able to capitalize on the power play and give them a 2-1 lead. Penn State hockey had two man advantage chances of its own in the latter half of the period, but was not able to generate any scoring.

Despite giving up two goals in the period, it was another period controlled by Penn State. The Lions outshot AIC by a margin of 20-6 in the period. It was a bit shocking to see Penn State trail after two while outshooting AIC 32-11 to that point in the game. 

Third Period

Penn State hockey came out still firing, but now in desperate need of a tying goal. Early in the period, the Lions were able to draw a power play on an AIC tripping call. On the man advantage, freshman forward Aiden Fink was able to poke home a loose puck to tie the game. This was the first collegiate goal for one of the most highly touted recruits in Penn State hockey history. 

With Penn State now even, it continued to control play, firing puck after puck at the AIC goal. But Wallstrom continued to have a stellar performance, turning nearly everything aside. The Nittany Lions were so dominant in this period that AIC’s last shot of the entire game came with 15 minutes still to play. 

Considering Penn State’s inability to find twine and AIC not being much of an offensive threat, it seemed as if this game would be headed to overtime. With under five minutes to go, Tanner Paloscik, a graduate transfer defenseman from Dartmouth, fired a wrister from the point that got past Wallstrom and gave Penn State the lead for the first time since early in the second period. It was Paloscik’s first in the Blue and White. 

AIC would pull its goalie but still would be unable to generate a shot, and the time expired on a 3-2 Nittany Lion win. Goaltender Liam Souliere made 10 saves on 12 shots, which was the senior’s worst performance of the season for Penn State. Truthfully, this was a game where the score does not reflect what happened on the ice. The Nittany Lions dominated all facets of the game, except goaltending, and this could have easily gotten out of hand for the Yellow Jackets. 

Nittany Lions fall on Saturday night

First Period

Pegula Ice Arena was not the typical Pegula environment on Saturday. Most fans who filed into the rink came from watching the tough Penn State football loss at Ohio State. The building just didn’t have the juice it typically has. AIC was able to take advantage with an early power play. On its first shot of the night, AIC scored just three minutes into the game. 

The Yellow Jackets continued to apply pressure, a hungry team looking for their first win of the season. But after not getting any lucky bounces last night, the Lions were due for one. And they got one. Junior defenseman Simon Mack lazily threw a puck on net from the point that somehow found its way into the net to tie the game at one.

This completely shifted the momentum and allowed the Nittany Lions to get back to what they do best, putting pucks on net. That extended zone time led to a hard hit on junior forward Danny Dzhaniyev, who also took a major hit last week. It is important to note he is the smallest Division I hockey player at 5’4”, so these hits could become a theme this season. This time, it was ruled a major, giving Penn State hockey five minutes on the man advantage. 

Penn State was poorly organized for the first portion of the major, then took a penalty of its own to negate the rest of the major penalty. While Penn State killed the penalty off, it shifted momentum back to AIC’s side. 

The end of the period quickly turned disastrous for the Lions. They gave up two quick goals and stunningly went to the locker room down 3-1. 

Second Period

Penn State hockey came into the second desperately trying to get some pucks into the net and draw the game even. The results came so close, but multiple different Nittany Lions hit the iron, and the AIC lead held at two. 

Midway through the period, the Yellow Jackets tallied a fourth goal to make it 4-1, and upset watch was officially on at Pegula. 

The fourth goal woke the Nittany Lions up a bit. Exactly one minute later, senior forward Chase McLane was able to pot a goal to cut the deficit to two. It looked as if AIC answered back immediately, but after a review, it was called no goal. Even though it didn’t count, Guy Gadowsky had seen enough. He pulled Liam Souliere after allowing 4 goals on 14 shots for an abysmal .741 save percentage. Sophomore Noah Grannon came on in relief. 

Penn State grabbed another goal before the end of the period when Dzhaniyev backhanded a rebound home. This gave the Nittany Lions all the momentum and belief it could pull off another comeback win, heading into the second intermission.

Third Period

The third period started the same way it did Friday, with Penn State in need of a tying goal. As is typical of a quintessential Penn State hockey team, the Lions threw everything and anything on the net. AIC played a much better third than Friday and had a few minutes in the middle of the period with offensive pressure trying to sustain their lead.

As time passed, Penn State found its goal. With under four minutes on the clock, freshman forward Reese Laubach waited on the back door to stuff home a Dylan Gratton pass to tie the game at four.

The fun times at Pegula wouldn’t last long. With just around two minutes on the clock, AIC answered right back and took a 5-4 lead. The Yellow Jackets would score an empty netter soon after to get to the final score of 6-4, giving Penn State hockey its first loss of the year.

This loss, mainly on the back of poor goaltending for the Lions, could loom large for Penn State in March when the tournament selection comes around. AIC will likely be in the bottom half of the Pairwise, so this loss will put the Nittany Lions rankings down.

But it won’t be an end-all for Penn State. After all, the Lions lost to these same Yellow Jackets in 2017 and still made the tournament. The Lions, however, will have to be perfect the rest of the way in non-conference play and stack some wins during the conference season.

Penn State hockey stays home

Penn State hockey stays home to take on Alaska-Anchorage at Pegula Ice Arena. The games will be on Thursday and Friday, both at 7:00 p.m.

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Jaret is a Penn State alum who covers Penn State sports for Basic Blues Nation. He is very passionate about the Nittany Lions and loves sharing his passion for the school through writing.


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