With snow sliding off the roof of Holuba Hall in State College, PA, the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Denver Pioneers got the 2007 season started. Denver looked good in the first few minutes as they jumped to a 2-0 lead. They then faltered for the rest of the half as Penn State dominated to a 5-3 halftime lead. A lackluster offensive second half, missed opportunities, and a non-existent man-up unit by Penn State, gave Denver all the room it needed. DU used mostly transition goals to keep Penn State scoreless in the 3rd and 4th periods while they notched 7 unanswered goals.
The season opener got off to a controversial call as Penn State Assistant coach Guy van Arsdale quickly pointed out to one of the referees. Denver’s first goal came following a Denver player clearly being in the crease. The ref admitted to van Arsdale that he saw the infraction, but let it go because at the time Penn State had picked up the ground ball and it seemed it was to their advantage. The advantage quickly ended and Denver turned it into junior Michael Goltra’s first goal of the year. Goltra went on to finish with two assists and two goals on the day for four points.
Not long after came Denver’s second goal. This time it looked like sloppy stick-handling forced a Penn State player to drop his stick. Denver picked up the ground ball and started the transition. Sophomore attackman Joey Murray finished it, slipping one past Penn State’s sophomore goalie Drew Adams.
The early spurt was about all that Denver did right in the half. Following that scoring burst, Penn State settled down and dominated on nearly every front. Denver dropped easy passes all over the indoor turf field. As Penn State settled, their offense started to make things happen. Freshman midfielder Chris Hogan put Penn State back in the game. The first goal of his career came with 6:28 to play in the first period. His second goal came shortly thereafter on a man-up opportunity. The freshman ripped a lefty high-to-high shot that Denver senior goalie Jeb Hollingsworth didn’t stand a chance with.
The next three goals were Penn State as well. Senior midfielder Pat Heim moved the ball down the wing to Gil Pearsall. Pearsall handled the errant pass with his left hand and put the ball past Hollingsworth. Pearsall, normally a middie, was playing attack for the injured Brian Boyle. Early, Penn State seemed to handle Boyle’s loss okay, his absence was noticeable later, however. Attackman Max van Arsdale iso’ed his way to Penn State’s 4th goal. As seemed to be his game plan all night, van Arsdale bulled his way into his defender, baiting the Denver D to attempt to go over his head. As the check missed, van Arsdale lumbered to the goal and finished the one-on-one. This was the rare occasion that the tactic worked however. Bubba Scott added Penn State’s 5th, and what would prove to be final, goal.
Goltra helped Denver’s cause by adding cutting the half-time score to 5-3, Penn State.
The feeling at the half was that the game was all Penn State, but despite Denver playing so poorly, it was still only a two goal game.
”It’s early in the season. We only had one scrimmage under our belt. I think it was a matter of handling the ball and being a little smarter with it in transition, that’s probably the biggest difference. We got the ball back a million times and we’re racing up the field, which is how we want to play. And we just didn’t execute transition the way we want to execute it,” commented Denver head coach Jamie Munro.
The second half started out in a similar fashion, but slowly Denver’s sticks looked more like they will in April. Denver’s fourth and fifth goals came on unsettled situations. On the fifth, Charley Dickenson hit a cutting Brad Richardson who cut the ball and put a lefty behind-the-back in. Denver grabbed a 6-5 lead to finish the third.
Penn State’s goalie, Drew Adams, an All-American in 2006 helped keep hope alive for Penn State. With under four minutes to go in the third, he stopped two different point blank opportunities for Denver.
The fourth quarter was more of the same for Denver: good transition lacrosse. Penn State had ample opportunities, but just couldn’t finish them. Denver’s ninth goal came at the hands of poor recognition by Penn State. Denver was man-down. Freshman midfielder Ilija Gajic subbed for a longpole and was waiting for the man-down to finish so he could onto the offensive side of the field from the middle of the field. The penalty ended, Gajic streaked in, caught a pass uncovered and put the shot away. Any chance Penn State had had slipped away. The momentum of the man-up was taken away as Denver killed the penalty by possessing the ball and the put one in right after. Penn State’s mounting frustration was evident. The defense played well most of the night. They limited just about every opportunity Denver had in settled situations. Following the 9th goal, Penn State defender John Stuckey had the ball on a clear on the sideline. He passed it, but wasn’t happy with the Denver riding attackman. So he slashed him right in front of the ref. This gave Denver a man-up and was the final nail in the coffin for Penn State.
When asked about the difference between his team in the first and second halves, Penn State Glenn Thiel had this to say, “I don’t know. We just stopped doing anything. We dropped the ball. We thought we were going to do it all in one play. I don’t know what to say. We probably out shot them 2-to-1. But all our shots are missing the cage, or they were hitting the goalie in the chest instead of shooting to open spots. So our shot selection was not very good. Our extra-man offense…I mean they [Denver] can afford to be aggressive, because they had 15 [actually 11] penalties or something, and we scored twice. We have to do better than that. We just frittered it away,” he added. “We’re so much better than that on extra-man and so much better that on offense. It was like their aggression got to us and we couldn’t make plays when we had to shoot. I give them all the credit, their kids must have a great time playing that style. Flying around the field, running up-and-down the field. They were able to do it without getting tired and we got tired.”
The good news for Penn State is that this was a very winnable game that they probably should have won. The bad news is, well…they didn’t win. Their offense was clearly missing something. They graduated two of their top attackmen from last year and the 2006 leading scorer, Brian Boyle, is sidelined with an injury. This forced the attack to consist of Rob Forster, a sophomore who played a lot last year, but wasn’t looked at to create like they needed him last night, Gil Pearsall who switched to attack from midfield, and Max van Arsdale, who missed last year to injury. The offense was able to get decent possessions, but didn’t generate the looks they wanted. Then, as Thiel pointed out, when they got the looks, they weren’t finishing them.
“We’re not gonna win them all and we knew that going in. We’ll be fine. We’ll still be able to challenge people,” said Thiel. “Maybe we’ll get Boyle back, that’ll change the attack a little bit. Give us another body in the midfield. We’ll be fine. With our schedule we have to play good. We can’t play a little bit and figure we’re gonna win. This was 5-2 and we thought we had it, but we didn’t.”
As for Denver, they shook off some early rust and made a nice run in the second half. One of the big keys was replacing Geoff Snider. Snider, as you may recall, was a 3rd team All-American last year for the Pioneers, World Games MVP for Canada, and on this night was busy in Philadelphia winning 16 of 16 face-offs for the Wings against the Buffalo Bandits.
“We graduated Geoff Snider, the best face-off guy we’ve ever had, and one of the best in the world. So you can’t just replace that. We wanted to figure a way to be competitive with it, so we worked hard. We have a couple of shorties that we think will be good and some good poles too,” said Munro.
“We felt along that we could be really good, I think we’re as athletic as ever and as skilled as ever, if not more so. The one spot was the face-offs where we really felt like was a question mark. We knew we’d be competitive, because we’re athletic and we’ve worked at it. I just don’t know if we could duplicate the dominance. Of course you hope for that. But everywhere else, I think we’re more skilled than we’ve ever been and we’re every bit, if not more, athletic.”
Penn State had big shoes to fill as well, as their face-off guy from last year, Greg Gurenlian, was a force to be reckoned with and a mainstay for Penn State there, graduated. He was also busy playing professionally, as last summer was spent with the Rochester Rattlers.
As for how either team handled those two losses is debatable. Early it looked like St. John’s transfer Devin Madden was dominating for Penn State. Denver switched to a longpole, Brad Patterson, to counter him. That still didn’t seem to work. In the second half, Madden didn’t take many draws for Penn State and they started losing more. Denver held the slight face-off advantage – 9 to 8.
Penn State only managed to get 12 of their 37 shots on goal and only capitalized on 2 of 11 man-up chances. Denver out 17 of their 23 shots on goal, but was only able to go 1 of 6 on man-up.
Neither goalie played superbly or badly. Adams showed flashes of what he’s capable of for Penn State, but he was rarely tested. When he was tested, often those shots were coming with one-on-ones. As for Denver, senior Jeb Hollingsworth made some big saves.
“Yeah, you know he’s done that. In real big games Jeb’s played really well,” said Munro. “Luckily for us, he’s got a great guy right behind him in Austin Konkel, who’s also running pole for us because he’s so athletic.”
Denver returns to action next weekend when they travel to take on UNC. Next up for Penn State is Notre Dame indoors at Holuba Hall next weekend.
|Bubba Scott||(1, 1)|
|Chris Hogan||(2, 0)|
|Max Vanarsdale||(1, 0)|
|Gil Pearsall||(1, 0)|
|Patrick Heim||(0, 1)|
|Drew Adams||7 (0.412)|