ALLENTOWN, Pa. — In a rematch of last year’s Midwest Regional final, the No. 5 Denver Pioneers once again walked away victorious after defeating the No. 12 Penn State Nittany Lions 5-1 Saturday night in the second Midwest Regional semifinal at the PPL Center.
The Pioneers controlled the tempo of the game with a consistent, technical and fluid offensive attack and were able to limit Penn State’s offense, one of the most potent in the country.
Denver finished with a 42-27 shot advantage — an impressive accomplishment considering Penn State averages more than 40 shots on goal per game.
“I felt like our leadership group got our guys to play the right way,” Denver coach Jim Montgomery said. “Penn State is an explosive offensive hockey team and I thought in the first period we really neutralized their transition game because of our commitment to playing on the right side of the puck.”
Despite playing in what was essentially a home game, Penn State came out relatively uninspired and was on its heels from the start of the game, failing to establish its own brand of hockey in the first two periods.
“I haven’t seen an atmosphere at a regional like this. It was blue and white and it was awesome,” Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said. “It was just so set up, when I saw them tonight I thought we were set up to do really well, and that’s probably why I feel so bad right now.”
Following a potentially delayed offside situation, Denver attacked with speed and numbers before Penn State could set up its defense. Dylan Gambrell fired a shot of the end boards and the ricochet bounced right in front of the net to Kohen Olischefski, who beat Peyton Jones weak side to give Denver a 1-0 lead.
The Pioneers (23-9-8) continued their offensive onslaught over the waning minutes of the first period and scored a second goal, as star forward Troy Terry buried a wrist shot off the post and into the net at the 16:40 mark.
Terry, the Anaheim Ducks’ 2015 fifth-round draft pick, was a standout performer all night, as he recorded three points and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time to create offensive zone chances.
After the intermission, the Nittany Lions came out with more energy and started to be more aggressive. Numerous hits and a power play in the early going started to shift the momentum in favor of Penn State.
That, however, was halted by a Henrik Borgstrom wrist shot that found the top corner of the net.
A common theme throughout the night was a strong surge by Penn State, followed by a minor defensive lapse that would result in a Denver goal. That’s exactly what happened in the final two minutes of the second period.
Penn State (18-15-5) strung together several minutes of sustained offensive pressure, only to have Denver’s Jarid Lukosevicius deflect a slap shot past Jones with only 2.2 seconds left on the clock.
Penn State showed signs of life in the third and final period, as it played its best 20 minutes of the game. In the midst of 4-on-4 play, Liam Folkes picked Terry’s pocket in the offensive zone and was able to beat Tanner Jaillet, who finished with 26 saves, five hole.
With the crowd back into it, the Nittany Lions seemed in position to mount an improbable comeback following several near misses on clear cut scoring chances. However, it was too little, too late.
“Obviously, Denver is a heck of a hockey team, but we didn’t show our best tonight,” Folkes said. “They did the little things right and I don’t think we were sharp off the bat. We are better than what we showed tonight.”
Lukosevicius added a late insurance goal, his second of the night, to seal the victory for the Pioneers.
Denver will play top-seeded Ohio State at 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday for a spot in the Frozen Four.