UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – UConn sophomore goaltender Rob Nichols (Dallas, Texas) turned away 33 shots as the Huskies skated to a season opening 2-2 tie with Penn State University in front of a sold out crowd of 6,017 at Pegula Ice Arena Friday night. The Huskies had a 2-1 lead late into the third period before the Nittany Lions were able to find the equalizer with 48 seconds left to knot the game at 2-2.
"It was exciting to get out there, pretty hostile environment but a pretty fun building," stated Nichols. "I think we had some good practices and it translated right over to the game. We were pretty prepared as a team and knew they would come out flying. To go on the road and play in front of six thousand fans like that, its fun to play in."
After dropping their last three season-openers, the Huskies end that streak and pick-up their first tie in an opener since the 2010-11 campaign when they skated to a 3-3 decision at the University of Maine. The Huskies picked up a point for Hockey East in the Big Ten/Hockey East Challenge with Friday night’s result.
The Huskies got off to a slow start in the first, getting out shot 13-5 over the period. Nichols was up to the task and kept the Huskies in the game highlighted by a sliding save to turn away a Penn State two-on-one chance six minutes in. PSU’s Casey Bailey blasted a one-time from the left circle but a sliding Nichols turned it away to keep the game tied.
"They definitely carried the play in the first period," added head coach Mike Cavanaugh. "I thought that was the only time we played a bit on our heels. After that, I thought we played just as well as Penn State and at times we had some really good chances. It was a great college hockey game. A tough, hard nose game and those are the ones you want early on. I'm was really proud of the way our guys came back after that first period and competed for the last 45 minutes."
UConn turned the tables in the second period and opened the scoring at 10:30 as junior Patrick Kirtland (Rocky Hill, Conn.) scored the first goal of the season. The Huskies broke out for an odd-man rush through the neutral zone with sophomore Brent Norris (Ottawa, Ontario) carrying up the left boards. Norris looked to center to Evan Richardson (Nanaimo, British Columbia) in the slot but saw his pass deflected. Kirtland was there to clean up the loose puck, step in and beat Matthew Skoff low, stick side for a 1-0 lead.
"I think in that first period we were maybe a bit conservative, just weathering the storm," commented senior Trevor Gerling (Seattle, Wash.) "We knew their fans would be loud but I think we settled down in the room and came out with a different attitude in the second period. Just excuted better, making sure we got pucks in deep, take care of the little things."
The Nittany Lions got even just four minutes later as Tommy Olczyk was taken down by UConn’s Ryan Segalla (Rockland, Mass.) on a break-away, earning a penalty shot opportunity on the play. Olczyk skated in, put a move on Nichols and beat the goaltender through the five-hole to tie it at 1-1.
The Huskies looked like they got the game-winner at the 15:14 mark of the third on freshman Johnny Austin (St. Louis Park, Minn) first career goal. Freshman Spencer Naas (Minnetonka, Minn.) fed Austin in the high slot and the rookie rifled a shot on goal that found it's way through traffic for a 2-1 edge.
Penn State was able to get Skoff off the ice for the extra skater with just over a minute left and found the tying goal on a rush to the net. Patrick Koudys threw the puck on net from the right circle and in a hard charging David Goodwin saw the puck go off his skate past Nichols to tie it. The goal was reviewed and stood, tying the game at 2-2 and sending it to overtime.
The Nittany Lions held a 5-2 edge on shots in the extra session but neither team produced a quality scoring chance. Following the overtime, both teams took part in an exhibition shootout per Big Ten rules. The Huskies came away with the shootout victory on goals by Richardson and junior Shawn Pauly (Bellingham, Wash.).
The Huskies and Nittany Lions will be back on the ice tomorrow afternoon to close out the series. Opening face-off is scheduled for 3:00 pm from Pegula Ice Arena.