DETROIT - Here are three takeaways (and a bonus one) from Penn State’s 2-1 double-overtime victory against Wisconsinin the Big Ten final at Joe Louis Arena.
1. What a night for Penn State. ”I feel grateful to be a part of Penn State University,” head coach Guy Gadowsky said to the Joe Louis Arena crowd after the game, and he had reason to celebrate the program he helped build from scratch. Playing their third game in three nights – especially with Friday night’s game going to double-overtime – the Nittany Lions weren’t at their best but the team’s effort was nothing short of heroic on a night when strategy took a backseat to sheer will for each team. Just how off from its usual game was Penn State? The Nittany Lions were outshot for just the fourth time all year – and badly, 52-35 – but the team still was able to clinch its first-ever Big Ten title in the program’s fifth season at the Division I level. It’s been quite a rise for Gadowsky and the Nittany Lions, and the future looks bright, too. Freshman Liam Folkes scored both goals, including the breakaway winner, and he was one of eight first-year players to suit up in the game for Penn State.
2. One of those freshmen was tournament MVP Peyton Jones, and the netminder deserved nothing less thanks to a performance that had to turn heads. In double overtime alone he used his 6-4 frame to its full extension to make a pair of eye-popping pad saves, and he made a huge stop on Will Johnson all alone in front, too. He finished with 51 saves in the game, seven in the 6:43 of double OT. He was the best player on the ice for three days and saved Penn State a number of times, as a goaltender has to do to win a championship.
3. Wisconsin deserves credit, too. The hurt will be very real for the Badgers, as one would expect with the team mere inches away from winning the league and earning an NCAA tournament bid. But as bright as the future looks for Penn State, the same could be said in Madison. After back-to-back disappointing years, the Wisconsin program turned to alums Tony Granato, Don Granato and Mark Osiecki behind the bench. No one was quite sure what to expect in the first season, but the Badgers got better and better throughout the year and were a bounce or two away from the crown. Going 20-15-1 in the opening season of the Granato era showed the turnaround might be quicker than even the most optimistic observers expected.
4. OK, I’m cheating here a bit by going to a fourth thought, but a word has to be said about the end of college hockey at Joe Louis Arena. From the Great Lakes Invitational to the “Duel in the D” to its faithful hosting of the annual CCHA tournament, The Joe has been a major part of the college hockey landscape for decades. The venerable home of the Detroit Red Wings hosted two of the first four Big Ten tournaments and was sent out with a competitive conference tournament this time around. The Joe was never big on amenities, but that was fine, as the building rocked countless times for college hockey over the years and let thousands of players – from future pros to walk-on grinders – play on one of the sport’s biggest stages.