Sweetness: Peyton Leads Penn State to Big Time With 51-Save Performance
by Tim Rappleye/CHN Reporter
DETROIT Fifty-one saves.
Penn State freshman goalie Peyton Jones was the proverbial brick wall for the Nittany Lions on Saturday, leading them to the improbable, unpredictable and often-unbelievable Big Ten tournament championship run, 2-1 in double overtime over Wisconsin.
In three successive nights, Jones defeated Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, the last two in double overtime. His masterpiece Saturday was highlighted by the fact that he was in a classic overtime duel with another freshman, Wisconsin’s Jack Berry. What made the matchup even more intriguing was their connection through New Jersey goalie coach George Bosak in youth hockey.
“He was with me since I was six until this day, he’s taught me everything I know," Jones said. "I give him all the credit in the world for what he’s down for me. I know he worked with Jack as well, Jack’s a great goalie.”
The two freshmen felt their connection as the game roared into overtime, and beyond.
“Going into that first overtime, he made a couple of really good saves there,” Berry said of his counterpart. “In the second overtime, two back-door saves. I knew him back in New Jersey, we both had the same goalie coach, there was a little connection there. Props to him, he played a heck of a game there.”
Jones' season matched that of his team, up and down. He carried a save percentage of just below .900 into the Big Ten tournament, and Penn State in general was coming in reeling off two losses to Michigan to end the regular season. A once promising campaign — Penn State was atop the Pairwise at midseason — was in jeopary of crumbling away. A program in just its fifth year could be forgiven for falling just short of its first NCAA bid, but after being high in the ratings for so much of the season, it would've been a particular gut punch.
Penn State was questioned all year long; Jones was questioned all year long. Were they ready for the big time?
And then the Nittany Lions didn't just get off the deck, they ran through the Big Ten as dramatically as possible, and pulled off a rare feat of winning a conference tournament title with three wins in three days. And Jones did what he did.
Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky was simply in awe of his freshman stalwart, who denied Wisconsin on half a dozen Grade-A chances in the two overtimes.
“All I can say is that he is a winner,” Gadowsky said. “It’s phenomenal to see, phenomenal to watch, I just sat back and enjoyed it. Spectacular performance, not just tonight, but this whole tournaments he was just absolutely spectacular, I can’t say enough."
On the other side, crestfallen Tony Granato, denied an NCAA bid by the narrowest of margins in his first year behind the bench of his alma mater, was aware that his fate was being determined by the young Nittany Lion.
“When you get into the playoffs and tournaments, goaltenders seem to rise and step forward for teams that win.” Granato said. “That was the case for our guy, Jack did it all year for us. The other guy (Jones), he shut us down. Fifty-two shots; when you get that many chances you usually score four or five, sometimes you get seven or eight. Sometimes you only get one because he was great. Give him credit.”
Jones knew he was in a duel for the ages, facing down a fellow 21-year old, 200 feet down the ice.
“It’s always cool to play against a freshman, someone who’s in your shoes, in your same position," Jones said. "A tight game like that, it’s definitely a goalie duel, and it’s nice to come out on top.”
Another high-end freshman, Wisconsin forward Trent Frederic, dinged one off the crossbar in OT, or else there would've been a different rookie hero in this game.
The kid from eastern Pennsylvania is carrying Penn State into the rarified air of the NCAAs for the first time. With three major scalps in his pocket, he has no reason to believe he can’t claim a handful more.