The No. 1 Penn State Icers were upset by the No. 13 Oakland Grizzlies, 5-3, on Tuesday evening at Kent State’s Hoover Arena in the semifinals of the 2012 ACHA Men’s Division I National Championships. Penn State falls one game short of playing for a national championship in their final season before making the transition to NCAA Division I.
Just like in the first two games of the tournament, Penn State had to play from behind early on in the first period. The Grizzlies got on the board at 3:18 when Jordan MacDonald found a loose puck in front of Penn State goalie Matt Madrazo and put it home to give them a 1-0 lead.
The Icers would tie it at 1-1 at the 8:52 mark, going scoreless on the power play. Taylor Holstrom skated into the attacking zone on the rush and found a trailing Michael Longo, whose one-timer beat Oakland goalie Matt Toter top shelf. MacDonald would net his second of the day at 15:50 to put the Grizzlies up 2-1, but Penn State would counter with 1:20 left in the period when Jacob Friedman’s shot from the point found its way through heavy traffic in front of the net and past Toter.
Oakland would notch yet another early goal, this time 2:25 into the second period. Adam Novack, skating alongside the boards, fired a shot from the left of Madrazo, which snuck right underneath the crossbar and gave the Grizzlies a 3-2 advantage. Penn State would go on another power play but again would not capitalize, and a boarding call on Rich O’Brien late in the period would put Penn State a man down to begin the third.
The Grizzlies took a 4-2 lead 6:34 into the final period when MacDonald outskated a Penn State defender for the puck and beat Madrazo on the breakaway, giving him a hat trick. The Icers would draw within one less than a minute later when a shot from Nate Jensen in the slot beat Toter to make it 4-3, but Penn State’s magic would run out. MacDonald added his fourth of the game with 1:51 remaining on another breakaway, giving the Grizzlies a 5-3 victory to continue their Cinderella run.
This was not the first time Penn State had their dreams of a championship shattered at the hands of a Grizzlies’ four goal scorer. In 2007, Will McMahon’s four goals helped his Oakland team dispose of the Icers in the championship game.
Penn State was without their leading scorer Justin Kirchhevel against Oakland. The sophomore transfer from Alaska-Anchorage, who led the team with 55 points in the regular season, was sidelined by Head Coach Guy Gadowsky for his role in an altercation with Oklahoma goalie Nick Holmes in the quarterfinal round. Kirchhevel was assessed a double minor, while Holmes was given fifteen penalty minutes. Physical play after the whistle is not new to the Icers, and the details and reasoning behind Gadowsky's decision are unknown.
While their run to the semifinals is very impressive, the Icers failed to end their last season as a club team the right way. With many Division I caliber players competing in a league with less than equivalent talent, Penn State saw themselves on the positive end of many lopsided victories this year. In the regular season, the Icers outscored their opponents 191-53 in 31 games. They faced West Virginia and Oklahoma in their first two games of Nationals, teams that in five games this year they had outscored a combined 28-6. But the past few days, Penn State found themselves coming from behind in both games. When it seemed as though things had turned around after scoring five unanswered goals against Oklahoma to win 6-3 on Sunday, the tournament favorite was upended.
The loss will sting for a while amongst Icer fans who hoped the program could go out on top by winning their eighth national title. It will sting for the seniors who dedicated four years trying to win a championship, but unfortunately did not see their vision become a reality. While holdovers from the club years face an uncertainty next season after ten players signed National Letters of Intent in November, players like Holstrom, Kirchhevel, Jensen and Bryce Johnson, the first four Division I transfers to join the program, will have another crack at winning a national championship in the coming years, this time of the NCAA variety.
The Penn State Icers' slogan for the 2011-2012 season was "Honoring the Past, Celebrating the Present, Roaring into the Future". Today, the present became the past. Now, hockey glory at Penn State rests in the hands of a veteran group with a chip on their shoulder and the program's first ever recruiting class, coming together to strive for success in an environment that Terry Pegula so graciously made possible.
They are no longer Icers. They are now Nittany Lions, roaring into the future.
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