PHILADELPHIA — Under a late flurry of snowflakes, Neumann braved the frigid January conditions and bested Penn State 6-3 in an outdoor exhibition at Citizens Bank Park.
Playing on the same ice that hosted the NHL’s Winter Classic just days before, both teams came out with a little extra energy and excitement on such a grand stage.
“I loved being outside [and] on the bench I caught myself just sort of watching and kind of felt like when I grew up back in Edmonton,” said Guy Gadowsky, Penn State’s first-year head coach. “I would have really loved to play and be out there. It was a great atmosphere tonight.”
The NCAA Division III Knights faced a change of pace in playing Penn State, but took their opposition seriously in order to come out with a victory in this memorable event.
“With our team, we want to win every night,” said Neumann junior forward Jordan Zalba. “It doesn’t matter what team we play, we played Princeton earlier this year with every intention of beating them.
“We were here tonight to win, so any game we can we use as a stepping stone to get better. Penn State is no slouch team, either. They were a pretty good team tonight.”
Zalba led the No. 8-ranked Knights with two goals, including a power-play tally with just ten seconds to go in the first period.
Neumann came out and won the first period 2-0, equaled their goal output in the second, and did the same again in the third in netting another two goals.
Head coach Dominick Dawes used all three of his goalies in the contest, with each getting a full period of action.
“I thought Matt Tendler came out and played well,” said Dawes. “He made some saves. They came out pretty hard, so he did his job well. Ben Curley, he is a freshman, and it was the first he has really played all year, so it was a pretty big time situation for him, and I don’t think the guys helped him much in the second period.
“And then Ross MacKinnon, he is coming off a big game and I thought he did a great job cleaning it up, making some big saves late. I thought all three played well.”
Penn State is currently in its first year transitioning from Division I club competing in the American College Hockey Association. Next season, the Nittany Lions will be an independent Division I NCAA program before joining the Big Ten the following season, but had the chance to step up a level in caliber and play Neumann.
“I think we showed some rust, but at the same time, we played a very good team who exploited us a bit,” said Gadowsky. “Neumann has proven how good they are, they won an NCAA national championship recently and they’re ranked number 8 right now. They are a very good team and we expected that, but I thought we hung in there for sure. I would like to have another crack at them, but it was a good game.”
Players on both teams were donning eye-black for the contest, an unusual sight beneath a hockey facemask, but it was just one of the steps taken to deal with this unique setup.
“It was interesting going out there in warm-ups and feeling around a bit,” said PSU defenseman Brandon Russo. “I think the biggest difference between indoors and this rink is the peripheral vision we had. Looking up ice, it was kind of harder to see the puck, but we got used to it as the game progressed.”
Both teams are back in action with a quick turn around, each playing on Friday of this week. Neumann (10-3-0) heads to SUNY-Brockport, while Penn State travels to Oklahoma to face the Sooners club team.