Penn State

Lions’ NCAA pursuit will start as No. 3 seed in Cincy

David Goodwin hasn’t stopped watching the replay and Guy Gadowsky said he hasn’t either.

Penn State hockey's new hardware -- AUDREY SNYDER / DKPS

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — David Goodwin hasn’t stopped watching the replay, and Guy Gadowsky said he hasn’t either.

“I just kept watching the video like, ‘Man, how did he get a breakaway,'” Goodwin said Sunday during the Lions’ NCAA selection show watch party. “Everyone was just jumping over the boards on the breakaway, and it was just really nice that he was able to end it.”

Goodwin and the Lions’ head coach acknowledged that Liam Folkes‘ breakaway goal, part of the team effort that went into Saturday night’s double-overtime win against Wisconsin that delivered Penn State hockey its first-ever Big Ten tournament title, won’t soon be forgotten. As evidenced by the shiny conference championship trophy sitting in the center of the room and the players situated around it with eyes fixed on the TVs for the selection show, the Lions’ championship run could be far from complete.

Penn State, in its fifth year as a Division I hockey team, heads into this week’s NCAA tournament — the program’s first ever — as part of the Mid-West regional where the third-seeded Lions will play second-seeded Union (N.Y.) Saturday at 4:30 p.m. in Cincinnati’s U.S. Bank Arena. Should the Lions win Saturday night, they’d play the winner of No. 1 Denver and No. 4 Michigan Tech on Sunday at 6 p.m.

“Last night doesn’t even seem like it’s real,” Big Ten Tournament MVP Peyton Jones, who recorded 51 saves against Wisconsin, said during the Lions’ selection show gathering. “As a kid you dream of winning a championship in college hockey, and it’s unbelievable for this organization.”

While celebratory shouts filled the private room in Lettermans, a local restaurant, while the Lions learned where they’ll head next, several players were ready for a much-needed nap after their grueling run to the conference championship. Penn State played Thursday night and then played back-to-back double overtime games Friday night and Saturday, equaling four games in the span of three days. Because of that unprecedented stretch of extra play Gadowsky was relieved that the Lions don’t start play until Saturday night in the NCAA Tournament, as opposed to the other side of the bracket that starts on Friday.

Penn State had a practice schedule in place for either scenario, Gadowsky said, but he was thrilled that the Lions will have an extra day to recover.

“It’s playoff hockey and Coach Gadowsky is always talking about high-character guys, and there’s 27 guys over there that don’t want to let any of their teammates down and I think that’s the big thing for this team right now,” forward Andrew Sturtz said. “Moving forward we’ve just got to keep battling. That’s the way we’re going to win hockey games. We’re not going to out-school all these teams, but we can sure show the heart we have.”

After all, nobody in the room was still quite sure 12 hours after the victory how this team worked through a grueling physical stretch during the tournament and then into and through the conference championship game. For now they’re spent, and despite buckling in the new hardware on Saturday night’s flight from Detroit back to Happy Valley and watching replays through the wee hours of the morning, at some point the adrenaline will wear off.

Had the Lions packed it in on Saturday with a tournament berth already secured Gadowsky said he would’ve understood. When the coaching staff gathered to discuss Xs and Os during the conference championship game, Gadowsky said they kept going back to the same thing: The players were physically drained.

“We honestly didn’t know if we’d get anything out of them at all (on Saturday),” Gadowsky said. “What they did was tremendous and it comes from them. It comes from the locker room, it comes from how they feel about one another and how they feel about Penn State University, because there’s nothing coaches can say to get them motivated at that point.”

With fresh legs under them in a few days the team heads to Cincinnati for a game against Union — the same opponent that came to Pegula Ice Arena in 2013-2014, which was Penn State’s first season as part of the Big Ten.

“It’s so surreal right now,” Folkes said. “Everyone is so excited, but we know what we can do when we play Penn State hockey.”