Nittany Lions nip Buckeyes in Big Ten preview

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This team will have more significant and substantial victories in future winters.

There will be ranked opponents upset, perhaps a trip to a Frozen Four someday.

But, for a Division I program still in its embryonic stages, success doesn't come much bigger -- or more satisfying -- than Penn State's 5-4 victory against Ohio State Saturday in the consolation game of the Three Rivers Classic at Consol Energy Center.

It was the Nittany Lions' first victory against a club it will face regularly when the Big 10 Conference launches a hockey league next season and came against an opponent that figures to be one of their more ferocious rivals.

"Coming to Penn State, you know that the rivalry is already there, with the football team and many other [teams] at the school," said Penn State forward Casey Bailey, who scored two goals and assisted on two others. "To start that up with hockey is huge for us."

Actually, nearly any victory might have been large because Penn State (8-9) had lost four of its previous five games, including a deflating, 6-0 defeat Friday to Robert Morris.

"Getting shut out [by the Colonials] made us really hungry to bang those pucks in around the net [against Ohio State]," said forward Taylor Holstrom, who got Penn State's second and fifth goals.

Although Penn State got some sensational individual efforts --Bailey had four points, Holstrom got two goals and Max Gardiner had three assists -- no one dazzled quite like Ohio State winger Ryan Dzingel, who scored the Buckeyes' first three goals.

Ottawa spent a seventh-round draft choice in him in 2011. If a 60-minute snapshot is to be taken at face value, the Senators could reap a generous return on that modest investment.

"He's our skill guy," Ohio State associate head coach Steve Rohlik said. "He's our go-to guy. He's the guy who can change a game in a heartbeat."

Dzingel did that several times, but few of his teammates displayed the same edge.

The Buckeyes were less than 24 hours removed from a strong performance in a 1-0 loss against fifth-ranked Miami of Ohio and, while Rohlik made a point of praising Penn State's effort, he also acknowledged that Ohio State turned in a sub-par showing.

"They played well, played hard, and we didn't execute today," he said. "We certainly did not play our best game, and it showed.

"That was about as discombobulated a [defensive-]zone effort that we've had in a long time. Again, I have to tip my hat to Penn State and what they did. But, certainly, we took a real big step back for what OSU hockey is and how good defensively we are."

Dzingel staked Ohio State to a 1-0 lead when he flipped a backhander past Nittany Lions goalie Matthew Skoff from the front lip of the crease at 3:56 of the opening period.

But rather than hemorrhaging goals, as they had done against Robert Morris, the Nittany Lions countered quickly and ran off five of the next six.

Curtis Loik tied the score, 1-1, at 7:45, as he tossed a backhand shot by Buckeyes goalie Collin Olson, and Holstrom put Penn State in front to stay by harassing Buckeyes defenseman Al McLean into giving away the puck behind the goal line, then knocking in a Bailey rebound at 16:40.

Bailey got a five-on-three goal at 18:43 and, after Dzingel pulled Ohio State back within one at 2:39 of the second, Bailey scored for Penn State with nine seconds left in the second and Holstrom got what proved to be the winner 21 seconds into the third.

Dzingel (7:49) and Alex Szczechura (17:32) of Ohio State injected some suspense into the outcome, but Ohio State couldn't manufacture the tying goal.

"You can't play desperate hockey at the end to play catch-up, and that's kind of what we did," Rohlik said.

So Round 1 of what promises to be a furious rivalry when the Big Ten Conference debuts goes to Penn State. And while logic says that the Nittany Lions will be overmatched against some of the high-end teams they'll face in the conference next season, Rohlik expects them to be competitive from the start.

"They're a hard-working team," he said. "They play with a lot of heart, they play with passion. That's what it takes at this level."

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