Penn State hockey has reached two more remarkable milestones.
The Nittany Lions defeated Wisconsin to capture the Big Ten Tournament title Saturday at Joe Louis Arena, freshman Liam Folkes scored both goals in a 2-1 double-overtime victory. Freshman goaltender Peyton Jones made 51 saves.
By winning Saturday, the Nittany Lions also earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament. It is the first in program history. This is just the fifth season for Penn State competing in Division I, but the rise of ‘Hockey Valley’ has been rapid and incredible.
Folkes scored at 15:37 of the opening period to put Penn State in front. It was his fifth goal of the season, and Folkes became the 12th player with at least five for a deep Nittany Lions club.
Wisconsin tied the game at 1-1 with 8:15 left in the third period. The Badgers needed to win this game to reach the NCAA Tournament and played like a desperate bunch, but Jones was incredible in net.
Folkes scored 4:23 into the second overtime to secure the victory.
Penn State was firmly on the NCAA bubble before this weekend. The Nittany Lions beat Michigan in the opening round Thursday at the Big Ten Tournament and then knocked off top-seed Minnesota in double overtime Friday night.
The Nittany Lions began the season 17-2-1 and climbed to the top of the major polls for the first time in program history. They finished the regular season with nine losses in 14 games, including two defeats at Michigan in the final weekend that made the conference tournament a more urgent matter.
Before beating Minnesota on Friday, the Nittany Lions did not have a win against any of the teams rated ahead of them in the PairWise rankings.
Penn State is second in the nation in goals per game, trailing only Harvard. Denis Smirnov leads the team with 45 points and leads all freshmen in the country in scoring. He and fellow Russian native Nikita Pavlychev (11 points) have added an interesting dynamic after playing youth hockey nearby.
The first two rounds of the 2017 NCAA Men’s Hockey Tournament are March 24-26 at four regional sites. The East Regional is in Providence, R.I., the Northeast Regional is in Manchester, N.H. the Midwest Regional is in Cincinnati and the West Regional is in Fargo, N.D.
Winners from each of the four regions will meet in Chicago at the 2017 Frozen Four. The national semifinals are April 6 at United Center and the championship game is April 8.