MADISON, Wis. – Eamon McAdam was getting pelted with rubber.
It was just a few minutes after a desperate Wisconsin team peppered Penn State’s goalie with over a half-dozen shots during one flurry in the Nittany Lions’ zone, and now Penn State was going on the penalty kill for the first time with one minute remaining.
“It was chaos,” said McAdam.
But after playing with fire at times through the first two periods, McAdam’s stood strong during Wisconsin’s final push, as he made three power-play saves in the final minute to lift No. 14 Penn State in a 2-1 win over plummeting Wisconsin at the Kohl Center Friday.
“It’s nice when you can really trust your guys,” said McAdam. “It helps you so much.”
Tying a program record for conference wins, McAdam and his 26 saves helped the Nittany Lions (20-9-5, 10-6-1-1 Big Ten) move to within three points of Michigan for second place in the conference with three games to go. The top two teams get a bye in the conference tournament and Penn State travels to Ann Arbor next weekend.
“Just the way Eamon played, he was calm, and I think it really calmed us down,” said Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky. “There was a lot going on, we got caught really tired [and] though the guys on the ice did a great job, Eamon led the way with his attitude.”
Having yet to play the same goalie in both games in a weekend this season, McAdam was slated to be the starting goalie in both games. After all, he entered the weekend with a perfect 2-0-0 record with a 1.50 GAA and a .953 save percentage against the Badgers.
And while the Badgers (6-17-8, 1-12-4-2) rattled the pipes and caught him out of position a handful of times, McAdam let nothing past him the final two periods and got 16 blocks from his defense.
“It was an unbelievable effort by our ‘D’ and our forwards,” said McAdam. “They were blocking shots all night. They could have easily had 40, 50 shots if we weren’t blocking so many shots. It was an amazing effort by the guys to get in front of stuff and help me out clearly rebounds.”
After not getting many solid opportunities against senior goalie Adam Miller, who was making his first start since Oct. 16 for senior weekend and stopped 28 shots, Penn State was able to capitalize on every little mistake Wisconsin made.
On Penn State’s only power play, Andrew Sturtz scored with team-leading 16th goal at 14:32 in the first period, having open space after Eddie Wittchow broke his stick.
An ill-timed shift change in the second period allowed Tommy Olczyk to go on a breakaway, resulting in him burying the puck top shelf for what amounted to be the game-winning goal. Olczyk became the fifth Penn State player to reach double-digit goals this season.
“You can’t key on one line or even two lines,” said Gadowsky. “I think everybody’s going, so very nice to see it. It doesn’t always happen, but it is right now.”
Freshman Luke Kunin scored his team-leading 16th goal for Wisconsin, which lost for the seventh straight time to the Nittany Lions.
Kunin could have given his team the lead in the final seconds of the first period, but his shot from a stick’s length away from a wide-open net sailed 10 feet above the crossbar.
“A skill guy like that doesn’t miss those very often,” said McAdam. “Sometimes you get those bounces, and we’ll take them any day.”
Will Johnson stumbled and fanned on the puck when McAdam left the net wide open again after scrambling back from a failed clearing attempt early in the second period, and Grant Besse zinged one off the post, one of three UW shots that clanged iron.
“We probably outchanced them,” said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves. “Kids did what we asked them to do. We got a great effort from [Miller]. We had scoring chances. We hit posts again. I don’t know how we cleanse that out of our system, but we did the things we wanted to do but came up without that timely goal again.”
The loss comes in front of only 7,618 fans and two days after the Madison Capital Times wrote that attendance for home hockey games has dropped 19 percent since last season, 39 percent since 2006-07 and the team’s net profit dropped from $1.179 million in the 2011-12 school year to just $38,502 last season.
The simple reason why, arguably, is the on-the-ice product. Wisconsin hasn’t won a conference game since Dec. 12, hasn’t won a conference home game in over a year and is 10-43-13 over the last two seasons, being outscored by a total of 100 goals.
“It is frustrating when we play that way and don’t get rewarded for it,” said Wittchow, one of only three seniors on the roster. “Nobody’s getting discouraged by it. Everyone understands that we need to just keep playing that way and things will fall.”