STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Matthew Skoff made 31 saves and Max Gardiner registered three assists as Penn State took a 5-1 decision over Air Force at the Greenberg Ice Pavilion Saturday night, 24 hours after losing a 5-1 decision to the Falcons.
Air Force responded early on to coach Frank Serratore’s disapproval of their play on Friday by outshooting the Nittany Lions 11-5 in the first. The Falcons generated four of those shots on the period’s lone power play, but Penn State’s freshman goalie Skoff was poised in turning aside each offering.
After allowing the game’s first goal in their first three home games, the Nittany Lions (6-3-0) fired the game’s opening salvo as Gardiner got to a loose puck in the slot and fed a blind backhand pass to Casey Bailey. The Alaska native then buried it blocker-side on Falcons goalie Jason Torf for his fourth goal of the season and made it 1-0 at 15:29 of period one.
Gardiner continued his strong playmaking ability into the second period, where Penn State started to go to its forechecking strength.
At 6:39 of the period, after some extended offensive zone time, Gardiner snapped a pass to Bailey below the goal line. Bailey then ringed the puck around the left-wing boards, where Gardiner faked a shot and let the puck roll to defenseman Luke Juha. The freshman’s blast from the point found its way through traffic and beat Torf to give Penn State a 2-0 lead.
In scoring what ended up being the game-winning goal, Juha also registered his first-ever NCAA goal.
Following the Juha tally, the second period turned into the Skoff showcase. A Bailey tripping penalty at 14:50 gave Air Force its second power play of the period and Skoff impressed, stoning multiple high-pressure scoring chances from the Falcons.
“I don’t want to say Skoff stole that game, but he was awfully good,” said Serratore. “He was the difference in the game.”
“Overall, I felt really good tonight,” said Skoff. “We had a tough loss last night and I think the guys were ready to go from the get-go.”
The Falcons (3-4-3) did crack onto the score sheet in the third as Casey Kleisinger scored his second goal in as many nights, backhanding a left-wing shot past Skoff to cut the Penn State lead to 2-1 at the 2:41 mark.
After another bevy of chances for the Falcons, Penn State got some much-needed insurance and a third even-strength goal. After an Air Force defenseman lost his stick, the Nittany Lions worked the puck to Connor Varley at the point. His wrist shot on goal found its way through traffic, where David Glen tipped it past Torf to make it 3-1 Penn State at 10:38.
Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky saw a major improvement with his team offensively with regards to traffic in front.
“We got to the net and we had several second [chance] opportunities,” said Gadowsky. “I don’t think we had that at all last night.”
In desperation, Air Force pulled Torf with 3:57 to play to create a six-on-four advantage. Penn State killed off that penalty and shortly thereafter, Michael McDonagh and Varley tallied empty-net goals. For each player, the goals marked firsts at the NCAA level.
Neither team’s power play connected and Penn State improved to turning away 26 of its last 28 in penalty kill situations.