ST. PAUL, Minn. — The first game in Big Ten tournament history is definitely going to be one that will be talked about for years to come.
Penn State’s Zach Saar scored at the 12:47 mark of the game’s second overtime to give the Nittany Lions a 2-1 victory over third-seeded Michigan.
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“I thought it was an excellent hockey game,” he said. “I’m glad we won.”
The fact that the teams were still playing in the second overtime was a result of some quick thinking by Penn State’s Eric Scheid and a little luck.
In the game’s first overtime a Michigan shot found its way behind Penn State netminder Matthew Skoff and strangely began spinning like a top on the goal line. Before the puck was able to slide in or a Michigan player was able to hammer it home, Scheid managed to kick it safely away from the net.
When asked what was running through his mind when he turned around and saw the puck, Skoff said, “I had a few choice words that I wouldn’t say right now.”
“I guess the hockey gods had our back tonight on that play,” he said. “It was literally dancing on the line and Scheid came up with the big kick save.”
Despite a semi-slow start in the first period and during some of the second, the Nittany Lions (8-25-2) and Wolverines (18-13-4) put on a show during the rest of the contest for the handful of fans that showed up to Xcel Energy Center for a Thursday game with a start time of 2 p.m.
Saar’s goal came on a quick shot off of an offensive-zone faceoff win by Dylan Richard.
“We ran a quick shot,” Saar said. “Richard did a great job of giving me an opportunity to get the puck and I just kind of let it fly.”
Saar said that they had been running the play throughout the season, but that this was the first time it had resulted in a goal.
“We’ve run that scheme on the faceoff countless times, and we’ve never gotten it,” he said. “Coach always has faith in us and sure enough tonight it goes in.”
Saar, Richard and Tommy Olczyk are listed as Penn State’s fourth line on the line chart, but they saw a lot of time throughout the three periods and two overtimes.
“We have tremendous confidence in that line,” Gadowsky said. “Either in the offensive zone or the defensive zone, that’s why you saw them playing so much.”
Traffic in front of Michigan’s Zach Nagelvoort gave him virtually no shot of saving the game-winning goal.
“I was screened, honestly,” Nagelvoort said “It was a good faceoff play on their part. I lost sight of the puck and went down to try to cover it up. The next thing I knew, it was in the net.”
Nagelvoort and Skoff were busy during the game. Penn State put 65 shots on frame and Michigan had 53. Michigan coach Red Berenson praised his goaltender.
“He made really good saves and he stopped a couple breakaways,” Berenson said. “He kept the game close when we were at our worst.”
Penn State got the game’s first goal late in the second period when Luke Juha intercepted a pass in Michigan’s offensive zone and sprung Taylor Holstrom on a breakaway. The redshirt junior put a wrist shot past Nagelvoort.
The goal was a long time coming; Penn State appeared to be the better team in the first two periods and frequently outhustled Michigan to loose pucks. Michigan, however, turned it on in the third.
“Penn State, I thought, was the better team for at least half of the game and then we started to play better and get more chances,” Berenson said. “We actually got better in overtime. Our goalie had to play well to give us a chance and their goalie had to play well to keep us at bay.”
Michigan tied the game halfway through the third when Cristoval Nieves picked off a pass in Penn State’s defensive zone and fed a one-time pass from behind the goal to Phil Di Giuseppe in the slot.
Michigan and Penn State combined for 28 shots in the first overtime, but thanks to Scheid’s quick kick of the puck on the goal line, more time was needed.
Gadowsky said that he went up to Scheid while the officials were reviewing the play to see whether the puck crossed the line and asked him if he played soccer.
“He said, ‘No, never,’” Gadowsky said. “I said, ‘You should.’”
The loss hurts Michigan’s chances of making the NCAA tournament, but Berenson said he wasn’t going to fret over the Wolverines’ chances because the situation is out of their control.
“We’ve been on kind of a bubble here the last few weeks, and we didn’t help ourselves tonight,” he said. “I’m not even looking at that. We’ll wait and see on Sunday where everything ends up. But when you lose a game like this, you can’t expect to move up.”
Thursday was Penn State’s third victory over Michigan in five contests this season.
“I can tell you that every game we’ve played against them has been a hard-fought game,” Berenson said.
Penn State will face Wisconsin at 2 p.m. CDT Friday in the semifinals.