First Things First

UNIVERSITY PARK – The inaugural Big Ten hockey season for Penn State and Pegula Arena was supposed to see a lot of firsts.

Most of them happened in the first 20 minutes.

Truth is, only one thing mattered in this game, and that was the first win. It took until the third for Penn State to put this one in its pocket, but a lively final stanza delivered a 4-1 win over Army.

The first shot on goal took a mere 34 seconds, an almost accidental slice that Black Knight goalie Rob Tadazak barely got his glove on.

Not quite two and a half minutes later, the Lions’ fourth shot of the game became the first varsity goal in Pegula Ice Arena. With it, a new era in Penn State athletics was officially under way.

Nate Jensen etched his name in the book as the first to score in the new house, putting the puck in the attic on a feed from Taylor Holstrom.

“I’d say it’s just a big goal for Penn State hockey,” Jensen said. “It was a team effort.”

The historic night kept producing firsts – as expected: first save, first penalty, first kill, first major (that was the third penalty, which also ended the game for Penn State’s Kenny Brooks, the arena’s first game misconduct) and darned near the first shorty when Eric Scheid had a breakaway on the second Penn State infraction.

The Lions even got their first power play – about 30 seconds’ worth when Army was called for hooking during the Brooks major. Before the first 20 minutes elapsed, the crowd had been treated to pretty much anything a hockey fan can expect, including the first ding off the post.

Not surprisingly, the first-period horn brought about the first standing ovation for the team in home white.

“It was just such a great night all around,” Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said. “The star of the show tonight was definitely the student section. The atmosphere was tremendous.”

Tadazak agreed, in a joking sort of way.

“We don’t really get that kind of student section at West Point,” he said. “I was going to shake their hands after the game – it keeps the game interesting.”

Penn State’s solid play in the slot and superiority at possessing the puck kept the Lions out of danger through the second, at least until the final 90 seconds. That’s when David Glen was put in the box for holding, giving Army a 5-on-3 power play for 72 seconds.

When the first penalty expired – a two-minute boarding minor to Mark Yanis – the crowd roared and Army was only able to get one more shot in front of the goal before time expired on the period. Still, after two, Penn State accumulated 17 penalty minutes – most of it Army power play time – on seven infractions.

Gadowsky said controlling the offensive zone was key.

“Going into the third that was actually our focus. We thought that’s where we were winning the game,” he said. “We felt very good about our chances when we do that. The only thing that hurt us was turning over high in the zone,” something he said was addressed by the third period.

Penn State went back to the box to start the third, and again minutes later, but this time it didn’t work to Army’s favor. Curtis Loik got the puck from David Goodwin and put a stick-side blast just out of Tadazak’s reach, a two-on-one short-handed insurance goal the Nittany Lions definitely needed.

“It certainly made us feel a lot better. When you kill you believe you deserve to have the momentum,” Gadowsky said.

Goodwin made it 3-0 with a similar effort midway through the third, going three-on-one after a turnover in the neutral zone.

The shutout bid for Penn State goalie Matthew Skoff came to an end on a Black Knight power-play goal by Mac Lalor on the second 5-on-3 his team had in the game, on Penn State’s 11th penalty.

“That certainly wasn’t the game plan at all,” Gadowsky said. “I thought they did a great job.”

Scheid put the last one in for the Lions, an empty net goal in the final 30 seconds before Tadazak could even get off the ice.

“Tonight we worked hard all game,” Skoff said. “How many penalties did we kill? We earned it.”

It was a deafening crescendo when the Nittany Lion skated – yes, skated – the team out onto the ice for the first time. The capacity crowd was but one-twentieth of the full complement at the football field across the parking lot, but you’d have thought the other 100,000 were in the house.

Actually, an hour earlier, it seemed like that many were trying to get in – lines extended from the outer doors more than an hour before opening, and the hallways were packed with a constant flow until the lower bowl resounded with the announcer’s call: “Welcome to Hockey Valley.”

The opening ceremony included a tribute to Joe Battista, the longtime coach of Penn State’s Icers club team who coveted a big college program on campus, and Terry Pegula, the businessman who made it possible with record $88 million donation to the college.

The attendance was reported at 6,370, about 500 above the listed capacity of the arena.