Nittany Lions swept by Air Force; Set to face RIT and Vermont this weekend

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The first road trip of the year for the Penn State Nittany Lions did not go according to plan. Penn State drop both games to the Air Force Academy 5-2 and 3-1 last Friday and Saturday respectively.

Friday night’s contest was a flat out disappointment.

Penalties once again plagued Guy Gadowsky’s squad early on as sophomore David Glen was whistled for slashing less than five minutes into the game.  Scott Holm would give the Falcons a 1-0 lead on the powerplay as Cole Gunner sent a pass from the right corner to Chad Demers in front who tipped it on net. Eamon McAdam made the initial stop on Demers but left a rebound for Holm to bury.

A little over a minute later, Tony Thomas would give the Falcons a 2-0 lead off a beautiful coast-to-coast rush from Ben Carey. Carey fed a trailing Thomas in the slot with a slick pass who then wristed a shot pass McAdam.

Eric Scheid would cut the deficit to 2-1 mid-way through the first period after Mark Yanis’ pass bounced off of Jonathan Milley’s arm and Scheid jumped on the loose puck and sent a backhander by goaltender Jason Torf.

The Falcons regained their two-goal lead with 7:08 left in the second period on a Chad Demers redirected goal. The Falcons would tack on two more goals in the third period to seal their first win of the season. Luke Juha would register a powerplay goal with 3:38 left in the contest.

Eamon McAdam made 27 saves in his collegiate debut while Jason Torf turned aside 26 shots. The Falcons outshot Penn State by a 32-28 margin and went 1-5 on the powerplay, while the Nittany Lions were 1-4 with the man advantage.

Overall, it was a poor effort by Penn State in game one. I saw no visible signs of any backchecking. No drive. No commitment. And frankly no desire to win the hockey game. Gadowsky and his staff pride themselves on icing a team that plays a full 60 minutes and after the game at his post-game presser he seemed visibly upset with his squad’s attitude and effort.

Even though they lost game two,  I thought they gave a much better effort on the ice last Saturday. Neither team scored in the first two periods, but Air Force broke the tie with two third period goals in a span of three minutes.

George Michalke III scored twice in the third, including a shorthanded marker, and Cole Gunner added his second goal of the weekend. Aston, PA native Rickey DeRosa would score his first collegiate goal with 2:46 minutes left in the game for Penn State.

I thought the Nittany Lions dominated the second period overall but just couldn’t get that elusive goal. They outshot the Falcons 15-10 in the stanza and had a number of glorious scoring chances including Casey Bailey’s howitzer of shot that Jason Torf turned aside with four minutes to play in the second.

I predicted last week that Penn State would win both games, but that all hedge on if they could stay out of the penalty box, contain Cole Gunner and Tony Thomas, and get traffic in front of goalie Jason Torf. Their lack of discipline cost them in game one, however I thought they were much better in game two only taking two minor penalties.

Torf once again was stellar in goal for the Falcons. Penn State never really generated much traffic in front of him. They fired a ton of rubber his way registering 62 shots for the whole weekend, but only a handful of them were of quality. Cole Gunner and Tony Thomas combined for 4 goals and 4 assists on the weekend.

Defenseman Connor Varley and Patrick Koudys (WSH ’11) didn’t seem comfortable this weekend. When paired together, the two struggled to communicate and missed multiple assignments. Eamon McAdam (NYI, ’13) must control his rebounds. He will get eaten alive in college if he can’t control them. Frankly, I was unimpressed with his play while Matt Skoff continues to impress between the pipes.  Defenseman Mike Williamson (VAN, ’13) looked solid in his collegiate debut Friday.

It’s only three games in and Gadowsky and his staff are still figuring out which line combinations and defensive pairing work best. Bottom-line is it wasn’t an ideal weekend for the Nittany Lions. Giving up three third period goals is inexcusable any level. The shorthanded goal they gave up to Air Force on Saturday was a back-breaker. The constant mental breakdowns and dumb penalties is disturbing. Right now, this team is not prepared to win tough hockey games or consistently yet.

Penn State plays again this Friday as they host the RIT Tigers  then travel to the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday to play Vermont in the Philadelphia College Hockey Faceoff.

RIT travels to Happy Valley Friday in search of their first win of the season. The Tigers are 0-3-1 overall with losses to Michigan, Colgate, and Clarkson. They tied Clarkson 3-3 on Saturday. RIT struggles from last season have already trickled into this year. The Tigers finished tied for seventh in the Atlantic Hockey Conference in 2012-13.

RIT’s strength is their offense. They boast a strong group of forwards led by senior Ben Lynch and junior Matt Garbowsky. Garbowsky last season is RIT most offensive dynamic player. He led the Tigers in points (36) and assists (22) last season in 36 games played. He’s also an excellent face-off man. Garbowsky has one goal and one assist on the season.

Lynch, who is co-captain with Garbowsky, is tied for the team lead in points (4) and goals (3). He’s a smaller player at 5’10, 180 pounds but is a pesky guy to play against similar to his Penn State captain Tommy Olczyk.

The Lions’ are the 15th most penalized team in the country. I’ve talked about Penn State’s lack of discipline ad nauseum but they better stay out of penalty box because RIT’s powerplay is clicking at 27.8%, which is good for sixth in the country. On the flip side, Penn State’s penalty kill is clicking at 88.2% good for 12th nationally.

In all honesty, the Nittany Lions should win this game. Penn State is the better team overall and have more skilled players than the Tigers.  However, I hope they don’t overlook the Tigers and look ahead to Saturday’s game in Philadelphia versus Vermont. This team last season had the tendency to look ahead on the schedule. This could be a trap game. The Lions’ did beat RIT 3-2 last October in Rochester.

The Vermont Catamounts (0-1-1) will have revenge on their minds for Saturday’s contest versus Penn State.  If you recall, Penn State prevailed 4-2 last season.

Vermont started the first half of last year with an abysmal four wins, but became a better team in the second half finishing tied for seventh in the ultra-competitive Hockey East. They should be better this season overall but still have some issues that need to be addressed. The Catamounts have a tough time generating offense. They finished 53rd nationally in offense last season and tallied only 82 goals on the year.

Two players Penn State must keep their eye on are Collegeville, PA native Chris McCarthy and Everett, Mass. native Connor Brickley (FLA, 50th overall, ’10). McCarthy is 6’1, 205 pound center who is incredibly quick with the puck. He had 31 points in 36 games last season and will most likely turn pro after this season. He’ll be picked up by an NHL team one day. Brickley has enormous potential but really hasn’t recovered from a rash of injuries the past two seasons. If he gets going, he has the potential to be top player in Hockey East.

On the blueline, Vermont is led by juniors Michael Paliotta (CHI, 70th overall, ’11) and Nick Luuko (PHI, 179th overall, ’10). Paliotta is the Catamounts best defenseman. He can play in all situations on the ice. Luukko had a nice sophomore year and has made strides with his overall play.

It’s going to be no easy task for Penn State. Make no mistake Vermont is a solid team. They lost their opening game 5-3 two weeks ago to #7 North Dakota and then tied the Sioux 2-2 the following night. It should be a great atmosphere at the Well Saturday and I’m intrigued to see how Penn State will handle the second game of a back-to-back that will include over 200 miles of travel.

As an alum of Penn State, I hope the Lions’ prevail with the victory. However, my gut is telling me Vermont will win this contest simply because I think they’re the overall better team, plus they will have had over two weeks to prepare. Who gets the start in net for Penn State will be interesting? I would give McAdam his first home start Friday against RIT and start Skoff Saturday, who has experience in high pressure games. But hey my decisions don’t mean anything.

Since the Flyers aren’t providing much excitement on the ice these days I suggest all hockey fans in the Delaware Valley come out and enjoy some college hockey. You will not be disappointed.

*One player to keep an eye on for Vermont in the years to come is freshman goalie Pat Feeley. The Winthrop, Mass. native is 6’7, 226 pounds. Yes, 6’7! He’s an incredibly quick for his size and the former standout at the Berkshire School posted a  2.67 GAA, .940 SV%, and one shutout in the playoffs last season with the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs of the EJHL. He may not see that much action this year, but a goalie with his size will draw some NHL attention.