Murray solid in PSU debut, Lions’ late surge downs lowly Michigan State
By John Petrolias. Follow him on Twitter for Penn State hockey updates @jpetrolias.
One month ago, newest Penn State forward Brett Murray was among the top scorers on his junior league team, the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey Leauge.
Murray registered 20 points in 27 games with the Phantoms, but as it turned out, his destiny wasn’t to finish out the season in Northeast Ohio.
In short, Murray is imposing. The 6-foot-5, 222-pound Murray enrolled at Penn State for the spring 2017 semester, and made his collegiate debut on Friday night on a line with Liam Folkes and Nate Sucese — whose 5-foot-8 frames barely eclipse Murray’s elbows.
Murray notched an assist on Liam Folkes’ goal early in the second period, and the No. 4 ranked Nittany Lions overcame an early 1-0 deficit to beat the Spartans, 5-2 at Pegula Ice Arena — which sold out for the 50th consecutive game.
“It was a lot of fun,” Murray said of his debut. “The crowd was loud, and makes it fun to play. I think we played a good game and are happy with the outcome. I definitely had some nervousness but the guys in the room helped me out, calmed me down and [were] telling me it’s gonna be a good game, play your game, play how you play and it will be alright.”
Lions coach Guy Gadowsky was impressed with Murray but said the new enrollee was put in a difficult position debuting halfway through a team’s season.
“I think you can see he’s a big guy, he handles himself and skates extremely well,” Gadowsky said. “I remember my first college game, things were flying. I thought he handled it a lot better than I did. He’s in a much tougher situation being put in mid-season.”
This game was one where the 5-2 score was hardly indicative of the play that unfolded between the two teams. The usually-disciplined senior forward Dylan Richard took a holding penalty 57 seconds into the game, and the Spartans’ Zach Osburn ripped in a rubber meteor from a cross-ice pass to put Michigan State in front early.
Gadowsky said after the game that his team knew they weren’t quite playing, as they say very, very frequently, “Penn State hockey.”
“We needed some big saves from [goaltender] Peyton Jones and we just gave up more than we should have,” Gadowsky said. “I think we were there in terms of effort and wanting to do it but we weren’t there in terms of situational hockey. We made some rather poor decisions that we hadn’t seen a lot of the first half of the year and hopefully we can correct that tomorrow.”
Despite the uncharacteristic sluggishness, the Lions still wildly outshot the Spartans 46 to 26. Penn State’s shots on goal per game entering Friday was a nation-leading 47.89.
Chase Berger got Penn State on the board with a deflection off an Erik Autio shot from the right point.
“We work on that stuff in practice all the time whether it’s tips, and on the power play I’m in a weird spot where I’m getting pucks thrown at me,” Berger said. “I was able to get a stick on it and it worked out.”
Vince Pedrie added a goal from the point, Folkes scored his goal early in the second and Andrew Sturtz and David Goodwin notched goals in the third period to pull away from Michigan State, who trailed 3-2 and had a power play chance to tie the game
Gadowsky elaborated on his team’s recent struggles with penalties.
“It was a little bit disheartening because Saturday our biggest problem at Ohio State was taking penalties, and it’s something we really have to work on and stay focused on. For him it wasn’t a careless stick penalty, it was a hold trying to get positioning on the puck…After talking about it all week that’s not exactly how you want your second shift of the game to go. The guys didn’t panic, they got back to work.”
John’s Three Thoughts:
Murray will be a stud:
Brett Murray impressed me in his debut. While I wasn’t totally blown away by his speed as Gadowsky was, Murray did a fantastic job chasing down loose pucks and creating chances. He told me that was a big part of his game.
In terms of where he fits in the lineup, it’s a little spotty, but for a good reason. With 6-foot-7 Nikita Pavlylchev and 6-foot-6 Zach Saar healthy scratches, Murray stood out as the biggest person on the ice, but it was clear the Lions wanted to play with speed against a big, physical Spartans team.
It’s clear the Lions have depth, but I wouldn’t expect Murray’s ice time to be overwhelming in his first few games because, as Gadowsky said, he’s in a tough situation with established teammates ahead of him.
Lions really have a winning gameplan
Chase Berger’s goal was a deflection off a slap shot from the point. Vince Pedrie’s was a desperation shot along the corner of the left point, about as far from the net as possible in the offensive zone. Liam Folkes’ goal was scored along the goal line looking for a rebound. Andrew Sturtz’s goal was a front-of-the-net rebound. David Goodwin’s goal was a simple shot from the half-wall.
Penn State’s gameplan is clear. Shots on net. No shot is a bad shot. As one sign in the Roar Zone reads, “You can’t score if you pass.” In college hockey, where the quality of defense and goaltending yields to higher offensive skill, that’s a winning game plan. Penn State has the personnel to do this, and their No. 4 ranking is very indicative of it.
Michigan State is not as bad as their record
Any team that starts off their season with a record of 4-15-1 won’t turn heads. Actually, they’ll throw a few back in laughter at times. But Michigan State is a hungry team with just a couple glaring issues — goaltending and consistency.
Spartans head coach Tom Anastos told reporters after the game that he is impressed with the fight in his team and thought his team’s first goal was an encouraging sign of improvement on special teams. Unfortunately for the Spartans, someone has to have the bad record every year, and this year it’s them.
The Lions will finish their home series with the Spartans Saturday night at Pegula Ice Arena starting at 7 p.m.