UNIVERSITY PARK - The Penn State Men's hockey team played its first ranked opponent of the year and the result wasn't pretty.
UMass-Lowell, ranked No. 13 in the nation, handed the Nittany Lions their first loss on home ice this season coming away with a 4-0 victory Thursday night at a sold out Pegula Ice Arena.
"I think they are better. I think they play a tremendous game. The coaching staff does a great job. This team doesn't give you much," Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said. "On the whole, they played a much better game than we did. This is a tremendous opportunity for us in the scheduling. To play a team that was in the Frozen Four last year and we know why.
"Trust me. In the Big Ten it's going to be a lot tougher. As I said, this is a tremendous opportunity for us to see where we stand and how we can become a team like they are."
The River Hawks (7-4) scored just 1:51 into the contest when Scott Wilson controlled the puck behind the Penn State net and fed Adam Chapie in the slot for his fifth goal of the season. Stephen Buco picked up the second assist. The goal proved to be the game winner for the visitors.
"We messed up on a controlled forecheck and they took advantage of that," Gadowsky said. "I think we got a little bit of a lesson tonight. It started out a 1-on-4 and ended up being a 2-on-1 in favor of them. We keep making these mental mistakes and taking stupid penalties. You can't do that and expect to beat teams like this."
Penn State (3-4-1) had its opportunities on two first period power plays. The Nittany Lions fired off five shots on net but River Hawk goalie Conner Hellebuyck (37 saves) turned them all aside for his first shutout of the season.
UMass-Lowell got some breathing room with two goals in the second period.
The first came with the River Hawks attacking three men near the crease. Wilson put it in the back of the net at 5:56 with assists from Jake Suter and Buco. The goal was Wilson's second of the season.
A turnover in the neutral zone by Penn State led to a 3-on-2 breakaway for UMass-Lowell. Derek Arnold potted his fourth of the season with a nifty wrister top shelf on Nittany Lion goalie Matthew Skoff (24 saves) at the 7:56 mark. Joe Gambardella and Suter picked up the assists.
"I thought it wasn't an excellent hockey game against a real solid opponent. We had a lot of pucks get to the net so thank goodness our goalie was on tonight," UMass-Lowell coach Norm Bazin said. "Timely goals and scoring first is always key on the road. We didn't have a good power play, but our 5-on-5 did a good job.
"We didn't have a good first period but I thought we really did well in the second period. Penn State is a solid team, very well-coached and they are going to be even better in the future."
Rebounds were a big problem for the Nittany Lions in their defensive zone. The River Hawks got numerous second chance opportunities by using their speed and compete level to get to the puck.
Skoff wasn't the reason they lost according to Gadowsky.
"He didn't have his best game tonight, but we didn't lose this game because of Matt Skoff," he said. "We didn't score a lot of goals, right? He was going to have to play a darn good game for us to win with the amount of goals we scored."
Penn State defenseman Nate Jensen nearly got the Lions on the scoreboard, but his slap shot ricocheted off the right post with 9:35 gone in the period.
"We had our chances but just could capitalize on them," Jensen said. "They are a very fast team and they beat us to the puck when we had scoring chances. They are a great team and it shows in the way they play. We just have to bounce back and play better on Friday."
The River Hawks put the icing on the cake at the 18:02 mark with Arnold's second goal of the game and fifth of the season.
Once again, the power play was a problem for Penn State. Despite putting 15 shots on goal, the Nittany Lions were 0-for-4 with the man advantage. That makes them 6-for-38 on the season for a 14 percent success rate.
Max Gardiner and Luke Juha left the game with injuries and did not return. Juha should be good to go for tonight's rematch with UMass-Lowell, but Gardiner will not play.
"I don't think we are going to see Gardiner at all," Gadowsky said. "Juha should be fine. He's getting treatment."
On a positive note, the Nittany Lions out-shot the River Hawks 37-24, with a 13-6 advantage in the third period.
"We did a much better job in the second half of the game. I think we can build off that. We did a better job of generating chances, especially in the third period," Gadowsky said. "The good thing is we get another chance at them tomorrow (Friday) and we'll see how good we are at bouncing back."