STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Matthew Skoff stopped 47 of the 49 shots in leading the Penn State Nittany Lions to a 5-2 victory over the United States Under-18 Development team at the Greenberg Ice Pavilion.
Following an early feeling out process, the U.S. squad began unleashing shots at Skoff’s net. The freshman was poised throughout the first 20 minutes, turning aside 17 of 18 offerings.
The Americans continued a trend, as Penn State has struggled to avoid in giving up the game’s first goal. Hudson Fasching roared down the right wing and turned a shot on Skoff, who kicked the rebound to Connor Clifton, who finished the play at 8:47.
Penn State upped its offensive intensity after surrendering the goal, but American goaltender Thatcher Demko was sparkling in the net. Though he only made five saves through the game’s first period, the future Boston College product made a few highlight reel stops to keep his team in front, including a breakaway save on his former Omaha Lancers teammate Casey Bailey.
Just 37 seconds into the second period, on a power play, J.T. Compher found the puck in the right circle and sniped a shot low to the blocker side to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead.
Less than two minutes later, Penn State changed the complexion of the game with a garbage goal. George Saad walked down the left wing boards and made a beeline to the net. After a few whacks at Demko’s feet, the puck squirted in to make it 2-1 at 2:28.
“The fact that George was the one who (scored) was huge,” said Nittany Lions coach Guy Gadowsky. “He works his butt off, and the team really got a lift by him scoring the goal.”
As the hostility and post-whistle activity escalated, the Nittany Lions capitalized on a crucial U.S. error. At 8:43, both Connor Clifton and Scott Savage took post-whistle minors. On the ensuing five-on-three, Penn State scuffled initially, but at 10:35, Kenny Brooks picked up a rebound and slammed it home to tie the game, 2-2.
The game then turned into the Skoff show. The Penn State goaltender made 30 saves in the second and third periods en route to the 47-save victory. The highlight of the night was his sliding, split-legged save on Tyler Motte, who was staring at an open net off a rebound.
“(Skoff) kept the score tight through some repetition of quality chances,” said U.S. coach Don Granato. “His focus was outstanding.”
Skoff did not want to take the spotlight for the team victory, which featured a depleted defense that only dressed five players on the blue line.
“The whole ‘D’ corps really stepped up,” said Skoff. “It was a good response to the adversity of only having five D-men.”
Among the five defensemen was Mark Yanis, who saw his first action since Nov. 3 after breaking his foot.
Using their goaltender’s stellar play as motivation, Penn State capitalized again on a power play to notch the game-winner. At 6:59 of the third, following some crisp puck movement, Joe Lordo fired the puck through a maze of traffic at the center point. Demko was unable to see past Max Gardiner’s screen, and the puck tickled twine to give Penn State its first lead, 3-2.
While the American squad continued to try to claw back into the game, the Nittany Lions received insurance from their leader. Michael McDonagh ripped the puck away from the defense on the end boards, and then found captain Tommy Olczyk, who backhanded the puck past Demko at 13:12 to make it 4-2.
Brooks added an empty-netter to seal the win. It was Penn State’s first victory of the year when trailing after the first period. The two teams will meet again on Saturday night at the Greenberg Ice Pavilion at 7:30 p.m.