UNIVERSITY PARK - So close, yet so far away.
Not only are they words to the chorus of a decent '80s pop song by Daryl Hall and John Oates, they've become the unintentional theme of the Penn State men's hockey team this season.
The Nittany Lions play good teams very tough - they just don't know how to win yet.
Sentinel photo by CHRISTOPHER?SHANNON
Michigan’s Phil DiGiuseppe, right, uses his stick to fend off Penn State’s Patrick Koudys while chasing down a loose puck Friday evening at Pegula Ice Arena.
Winning is a habit. So is losing. Winning has to be developed. Penn State needs to learn how to finish against top competition.
Unfortunately, it hasn't happened yet in the Lions' second season of Division I hockey.
It was more of the same Friday night in the first of two home games with 10th-ranked Michigan. The Nittany Lions played well enough to keep it interesting but couldn't close the deal in a 7-3 loss to the Wolverines in Big Ten action.
The loss dropped Penn State to 4-18-1 on the season and 0-9 in conference play. The Nittany Lions have lost nine in a row and 15 of their last 16 games. Michigan improved to 14-6-3 overall and 6-2-2 in conference play.
"We got down early, which is frustrating but you've got to give the guys credit for coming back and coming back with a lot of pace and tempo," Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said. "Then they scored the big goal after we tied it and that changed everything. If you take away that goal, I'm willing to bet the farm that wouldn't have been a 7-3 game. It was a big turning point."
The Wolverines opened up the scoring quickly when freshman J.T. Compher recorded his 10th of the season on assists from Alex Guptill and Derek DeBlois at the 6:05 mark. The Michigan top line crashed the net with Compher putting it in the back of the net, stick side, on Nittany Lion goalie Eamon McAdam (eight saves).
Michigan's first line struck again a little more than three minutes later when Guptill fired off a wicked wrister from the top of the right face-off circle for the power-play goal, his eighth of the season. Mac Bennett and Compher assisted at 9:53 of the first.
Penn State had two gift chances to score in the first period but both attempts were stuffed by Wolverine goalie Zach Nagelvoort (33 saves).
Just 2:54 in, Jacob Friedman stole the outlet pass and had a one-on-one opportunity against Nagelvoort to no avail. The Michigan freshman gloved Friedman's hard wrister from the slot. At 13:46, Dylan Richard tried to capitalize on a 2-on-1 break, but Nagelvoort turned his slapper away with a nice stick save.
"We can execute better than that. We had plenty of opportunities but we failed to execute on them," Gadowsky said. "I don't think our players are very happy with how we played on odd-man rushes. We are a better hockey team than that. We did generate a lot of good chances but we needed to have a little more composure in our puck handling."
When you attack the net, good things usually happen and Penn State did just that, scoring two goals in the first four minutes of the second period to even things up at 2-2.
Casey Bailey tallied his fourth of the season when he stuffed in the Ricky DeRosa dish under the right pad of Nagelvoort at the 2:59 mark. Luke Juha received the second assist.
A minute later, the Nittany Lions tied it on Eric Scheid's 11th of the season. Scheid drove to the net and pounded it by the stick side of Nagelvoort. Patrick Koudys and Nate Jensen had the assists.
Penn State could have taken the lead but Connor Varley had a goal waved off after replay determined the puck didn't cross the line even though the light came on.
Michigan then answered with two goals of its own to take a 4-2 lead into the second intermission.
Bennett stole the puck, dished it to Andrew Copp and the Wolverine sophomore scored the go-ahead goal at 5:52. The goal was Copp's 11th of the year. Bennett and Brennan Serville recorded the assists. The go-ahead goal chased McAdam from net for junior P.J. Musico.
Copp's goal proved to be the turning point in the game.
"I thought they outplayed us in the first five or six minutes. They stole the puck had a breakaway and our goaltender had to save us," Michigan coach Red Berenson said. "Our team came back and scored a goal and a power-play goal. We didn't start the second period well, but give Penn State credit. They kept the puck in our zone and scored two goals. The third goal, I think it was by Copp, was huge. It was a big goal for us. The score was not indicative of what happened at ice level. Our goalie had to make big saves."
Musico (13 saves) received a rude introduction thanks in part to Zach Hyman and poor defense from his Nittany Lion teammates.
Hyman got loose from the defense and Tyler Motte placed a perfect pass right on the blade of Hyman's stick. The junior beat Musico top shelf for his third of the season at 6:42. Motte and Michael Downing recorded the assists.
The Wolverines added an insurance tally in the third when Justin Selmon made a picture-perfect seam pass to Downing, who potted his second goal of the year with 7:07 gone.
"I thought we did a tremendous job and had a lot of momentum in the second period. We weren't giving up much at all," Gadowsky said. "It seemed like a harmless wrist shot by Copp at the time but I thought that was the turning point in the game, so I decided to make a change. It's unfortunate that the first shot he (Musico) sees is a breakaway."
Penn State cut the deficit to 5-3 when an aggressive forecheck paid off with Zach Saar (six hits, six shots) collecting his third of the season off assists from Jonathan Milley and Taylor Holstrom at 14:29 of the third.
The Nittany Lion defense collapsed late in the game, surrendering two goals in a span of 1:10.
Hyman scored his second of the game and fourth of the season on an empty netter, assisted by Motte at 17:53, while Copp recorded his second goal of the game and number 12 on the year at the 18:43 mark. Bennett and Compher collected their second assists of the game.
Compher and Bennett had three point nights, while Guptill, Copp, Hyman, Motte and Downing scored two points each.
Penn State outshot Michigan 36-28. The Nittany Lions host Michigan today with an early 5 p.m. start.