John Puskar scored at 4:39 of overtime as the American International Yellow Jackets defeated the Penn State Nittany Lions, 3-2, in front of a sold out Greenberg Ice Pavilion on Friday night. The night marked the first NCAA Division I hockey game at Penn State.
The Nittany Lions got off to a nightmarish start in front of the capacity crowd at the Ice Pavilion, as Mark Yanis was whistled for roughing at 2:25 of the first period. Less than 20 seconds later, Nathan Sliwinski popped home a rebound at the side of Penn State goaltender Matthew Skoff’s net to give the Yellow Jackets the early 1-0 lead.
Penn State had a litany of chances following the Sliwinski goal, but American International goaltender Ben Meisner was superb, stopping all 20 first period shots from Penn State. Meisner finished the night with an Atlantic Hockey conference record 61 saves while playing in an atmosphere he called one of the best he has ever seen. The most spectacular stop of them all was a snow angel, pad-stacking stop on senior George Saad, who had an empty net in the slot area late in the first.
“We knew Penn State was going to come hard,” said Meisner. “Our game plan was to contain them as much as possible.”
Penn State picked up right where they left off in the second, keeping a high energy, tenacious forecheck, but Meisner and the American International defense remained stout. At last, Nittany Lions freshman Casey Bailey popped in a rebound at the side of the net to tie the game just over four minutes into the period.
The Yellow Jackets though, refused to let Penn State carry the momentum from their first NCAA goal, and less than six minutes later, Chris Markiewicz crashed the Lions’ net from his defense spot and deflected home a centering pass over the arm of Skoff to give American International the 2-1 lead after 40 minutes.
The third period saw the Nittany Lions continue to dominate the territorial play and the shots on goal. After a plethora of chances, Taylor Holstrom, a former NCAA product at Mercyhurst, cut to the slot and beat Meisner to the blocker side on a wrist shot to tie the game, 2-2.
Despite giving up the tying goal, Meisner continued to stymie the opposition, as Penn State could not capitalize on numerous chances late in regulation and into the overtime. Meisner saved the game for the Yellow Jackets when he stopped Saad once again, this time on a mini-breakaway on the glove side, in the extra period.
American International finally sent the Penn State crowd home disappointed when Puskar redirected Jake Williams’ point slap shot over the shoulder of Skoff. Despite being outshot, 63-29, the Yellow Jackets escaped thanks to the efforts of Meisner.
“(Meisner) is a real student of the game,” said Yellow Jackets coach Gary Wright. “His angles are strong, he has quickness and competitiveness; he’s very dedicated.”
Despite the tough defeat, Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky was happy with his team’s effort in their inaugural NCAA game.
“I’m thrilled,” Gadowsky said. “We had no idea what we had; I loved the offense that we created.”
The coach did not pass up the opportunity to praise the Penn State faithful as well.
“To see the crowd and the student section, it was fantastic,” Gadowsky said. “That’s why I came here, that’s why our staff and the recruits came here.”
The Yellow Jackets look for the weekend sweep as the same two teams will square off on Saturday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. at 7 p.m.