As the lights dimmed, the warm-up video played and the standing-room only crowd of 6,370 roared, years of hard work by the Penn State hockey program came to fruition.
David Goodwin nets the third goal of the game, and the first in his Nittany Lion career.
The long-time dream of Associate Athletic Director and former Icers head coach Joe Battista; the hard work of third year head man Guy Gadowsky, who came to the school when it was still a club team; the vision of Buffalo Sabres owner and Penn State alumnus Terry Pegula who donated $102 million to build a Mecca of college hockey in State College; was all now a reality.
As Pegula dropped the puck in the honorary opening faceoff a new era of Penn State hockey, in a new conference, in a new state-of-the-art arena was born.
What ensued was a Hollywood script. Penn State (1-0) scored first, and Penn State scored last, as the Nittany Lions defeated the Army Black Knights (0-1) rather easily by a score of 4-1 with a few adrenaline driven mistakes sprinkled in, in the first game at the Pegula Ice Arena.
“It was just such a great night all around,” Gadowsky said. “A tremendous night for obviously the Pegulas, a tremendous night for Joe Battista a tremendous night for so many people that worked so hard to get this done. And to come away with a victory obviously felt great.”
Just over three minutes into the game, Nate Jensen ripped a slap shot top-shelf scoring the first goal in Pegula Ice Arena history.
“Taylor (Holstrom) passed it up to me and Max (Gardiner) was I front of me, he’s big body, and he pretty much screened the goalie and I just shot upper left," Jensen said. "I kind of blacked out right after; I didn’t know who scored. Taylor went down and did some cele(bration) on the ground so I was like ‘Did he get the goal or what? So it was just a good team effort and it’s an honor to get it I guess.”
Penn State carried the 1-0 lead into the third period before striking again. On a fast break, lefty Curtis Loik beat Army goaltender Rob Tadazak glove side to put the Nittany Lions up 2-0.
David Goodwin tallied the assist on Loik’s goal and just over nine minutes later finished the possession himself. Penn State broke free for a rare 3-on-0 opportunity as the freshman Goodwin scored his first collegiate goal to put the Nittany Lions up 3-0, and the game out of reach.
“The only thing I really remember from the goal, was Dylan Richard was behind me,” said Goodwin. “I knew we’d be at least at a 2-on-0, and I later found out we had a 3-on-0, so all I remember was Richard yelling at me ‘Shoot it, shoot it.’ … So I was like ‘Alright, I’ll shoot it.’”
Army’s only goal came on a 5-on-3 power play late in the third. Mac Lalor put one past Matthew Skoff, who claimed to be interfered with, cutting the Penn State lead to 3-1. The goal was reviewed and upheld.
“I thought one of the opposing players slashed the stick out of my hand,” Skoff said. “That’s why I went to the ref and was kind of questioning it. But apparently it was (Patrick) Koudys trying to clear space.”
All preseason leading up to the opener, questions swirled as to who would get the start between the pipes. Many speculated that Eamon McAdam, a third-round pick of the New York Islanders, could steal the spot that Skoff controlled much of last season. Gadowsky gave Skoff the nod, and Skoff delivered, recording 25 saves.
“We’re pretty much a results-based coaching staff and during the week he really did play the best so that played a big part in it,” Gadowsky said of the decision to start Skoff. “He played in a lot of big games last year … He had those experiences and proved that he could be successful in stressful situations and intense situations. This we knew would be like that. I give him a lot of credit for being mentally tough. It was very easy to get caught up in everything.
“I thought he played very, very well. … He was flawless tonight.”
The rest of the Penn State defense, however, highlighted both the good and the bad in a somewhat sloppy effort. The Nittany Lions backed themselves in to a corner, taking 11 penalties that accounted for 33 minutes in the box.
“I think a lot of it was definitely just being jacked up,” said Goodwin about taking so many penalties. “I think a good example is Kenny Brooks and his five-minute game penalty. Obviously we know when you see someone’s back your supposed to stop and kind of hold up. It’s pretty tough in the first period, adrenaline’s going.”
Brooks added to the penalty struggles for Penn State just over halfway into the first frame. Brooks laid a vicious hit from behind on an Army skater receiving a five-minute major for boarding along with a game misconduct.
However, in response to the tough circumstances they inflicted upon themselves, the Nittany Lions blocked 18 shots and went 9-for-10 on the penalty kill, including a stop during an Army 5-on-3 opportunity led by the defense of Patrick Koudys.
The big game was nothing new to Koudys, a Rensselaer transfer who came into the season opener with more Division 1 hockey experience than anyone on Penn State’s roster.
“I thought everyone played well, but Patrick Koudys was just an absolute man tonight,” Gadowsky said. “You talk about the penalty kill and obviously they say your goaltender is the best penalty killer, and he certainly was, but Koudys has to be a pretty close second. He probably blocked as many shots as Skoff.”
With 25 seconds to play, and Tadazak pulled, Eric Scheid tapped in an empty-netter to top off the 4-1 victory.
At the end of the night it was all smiles, as the “wedding night” Pegula and the Penn State hockey program dreamed of went according to plan.
“I can’t wait to be back,” Gadowsky said. “I can’t wait to do this again.”