Penn State defeats Army in Pegula Ice Arena opener; Set to face Air Force this weekend in Colorado

(Photo by: Mark Selders

What a weekend it was to be a Penn Stater!

Hundreds of thousands of alumni (including myself) returned to State College last weekend for one of the most thoroughly entertaining homecoming weekends in recent memory.

First, their was the time honored tradition of the homecoming parade Friday night. Thousands of alumni, students, and families decked from head to toe in their blue and white lined the streets of Penn State’s campus and College Ave. downtown to watch the decorated floats of different student organizations and Greek Life march on by.

Second, while the parade was just ending, a new chapter for the men’s hockey team was unfolding as the squad kicked of their 2013-14 season in the impressive new Pegula Ice Arena. Penn State would be a 4-1 victor over the Army Black Knights. More on that in just a bit.

Finally, a little less than 24 hours later after a day’s worth of tailgating in the cow pastures, Penn State football came back to defeat the Michigan Wolverines 43-40 in a thrilling 4OT’s.

All in all it was weekend to remember at dear old state.

Back to hockey as promised.

Unfortunately, I was not in attendance at the game (not paying over $300 for a ticket).So I did the next best thing and watch the game from the comforts of my girlfriend’s couch.

Overall, Penn State did what I expected them to do. They took care of business against an Army squad, who as a whole, is not as talented as the Nittany Lions. The freshman line of David Goodwin, Zach Saar, and Dylan Richard stood out to me. Goodwin registered a goal and an assist and is more of the playmaker type on that line. Zach Saar, who looks like a linebacker on the ice, is a prototypical power forward who create a lot space on the ice for Goodwin and Richard.

I was a bit surprised that sophomore Matt Skoff got the start between the pipes over freshman Eamon McAdam (NYI, 70th overall, ’13), but I see where Gadowsky was thinking in rewarding the second year netminder with the start. Skoff had a good year last season posting a 9-8-0 record with a 2.48 GAA. He looked good Friday night especially in the second period where he turned away 12 Army shots to keep Penn State’s lead at one goal. He will battle McAdam for playing time this season, but he’ll certainly make Gadowsky’s decision each night a tough one.

Last season penalties plagued the Nittany Lions and they fell into the same habit once again Friday night. They got away with dumb penalties last year and against Army on Friday, including Kenny Brooks’ five-minute major and game-misconduct for checking from behind at 11:24 of the first period. Brooks should know better. Penn State took a total of 10 penalties against Army. I’ll tell you right now they will not win many games in the Big Ten if this trend continues.

The one positive I saw from all the penalties (if they’re any) was Penn State’s penalty killing unit was strong. In total, they killed almost 19 minutes of penalties including two five-on-threes.

I must touch on the fans who attended the game. I don’t know what it sounded like in the arena, but through the television it sounded loud. Incredibly loud.  The student section, or the Roar Zone, was going bonkers all throughout the game. Soon enough, word will spread throughout the country that playing in Pegula won’t be a friendly atmosphere for opponents.

Penn State is set to travel to Colorado Springs this weekend for a pair of games against Air Force. Last year, the two teams each won games by a 5-1 score.

Air Force is coming off of two weekend losses in the Kendall Hockey Classic to Alaska and Alaska-Anchorage 6-1 and 4-2 respectively. The Falcons gave up three third period goals to Anchorage last Saturday including the GWG with four seconds remaining.

Head coach Frank Serratore will have his team ready for the Nittany Lions and I expect the Falcons to throw all they have at Penn State.

So what can Penn State fans expect from the Falcons?

Well, goaltender Jason Torf is a stud between the pipes. He posted a 17-13-2 record last season and can steal games for the Falcons on any given night. He’s an athletic goalie who brings a calming presence in goal. Torf is not the biggest goalie in the world so if Penn State can get some of their bigger bodies (Jonathan Milley, Zach Saar, Max Gardiner) in front of the net they may be able to cause havoc.

Junior Cole Gunner and senior Tony Thomas lead the offensive attack for the Falcons. Gunner already has a goal this season and is real fun player to watch. He’s a quick player who is creative with the puck and is not afraid to get physical. He’s a pistol on the ice. Penn State must keep an eye on Tony Thomas as well. The big 6’3, 195 pound forward loves to park himself in front of the net. He’s an effective player in the dirty areas of the ice. I’m intrigued to see which Penn State line will match up against Gunner and Thomas? My guess is the shutdown line of Tommy Olczyk, Kenny Brooks, and Curtis Loik. However, Gadowsky is known to mix-and-match lines quite frequently.

While the Falcons are solid up front, the hallmark of this team is on the blueline. They finished 19th overall in the country defensively last season allowing an average of 2.50 goals per game. The 92 total goals they gave up were the fewest among  Atlantic Hockey teams. Assistant coach Mike Corbett, who was the mastermind behind the defense, did leave to become the bench boss of Alabama-Huntsville. His loss should not hurt the Falcons as they ice yet again another solid corps.

Senior co-captain  Adam McKenzie is one of the best defenders in all of Atlantic Hockey. He was named Atlantic Hockey’s Defenseman of the Year last season and is a incredible puck mover. He must be kept in check in order for Penn State to win.

Penn State should come away with two victories against Air Force but anything can happen. Realistically, I see the Lions’ splitting the weekend series with the Falcons. The Falcons are not the most talented team in the country but Frank Serratore gets the best out his players each and every game. He’s also a coach who is not afraid to speak his mind. I leave you all with this gem of a press conference I attended from last November when Air Force was in Happy Valley. Air Force won this game 5-1 I may add.

(Video courtesy of Thank you Terry)