February 22, 2014

Kaut Returns to Form, Penn State Upends Notre Dame

by Matthew DeFranks | LaxMagazine.com | Blog Replay

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Temperatures were in the 30s Saturday afternoon at Arlotta Stadium, but it was Austin Kaut who froze the Notre Dame offense.

Kaut made 13 saves and allowed just seven goals during Penn State's 8-7 win over the Irish. The senior All-American had 12 total saves in the Nittany Lions' previous two games.

"We need him to play well in order for us to be good. I don't think there's any mystery there," Penn State coach Jeff Tambroni said. "He answered the bell today and he gave us a good chance to be in this game. Towards the end, he gave us a chance to win."

Notre Dame (1-1) had 29 shots, 20 of which were on goal. But Kaut was there time and time again, making key save after key save and bouncing back from a 12-11 overtime loss to Loyola. Kaut made just six saves in the setback.

"He didn't play his best game last week against Loyola and I think he'd be the first one to admit that," Tambroni said. "We talked a lot to our team about bouncing back and being more confident and resilient. And there was just no better leader than he was."

Irish coach Kevin Corrigan said the Irish needed to get better shots off against Kaut.

"We didn't shoot well on him," Corrigan said. "He's very good. And if you take poor shots on an excellent goalie, that's going to be the result. Give him a lot of credit, but I don't think we tested him the way we're capable of."

Notre Dame had a chance to test Kaut in the final minute down by a goal when they went up a man with 37.7 seconds left after Penn State's JP Burnside was called for a hold. But sophomore attackman Matt Kavanagh threw the ball away and the Nittany Lions (1-1) ran out the clock to ice the win.

"The plan was to run a bit of wheel to get the ball to the back side of the field, and Matt just didn't move his feet," Corrigan said. "We knew they were going to pressure him, because he was the critical guy on the play before, but Matt just didn't handle the pressure."

Shane Sturgis factored in six of Penn State's eight goals Saturday. The way Austin Kaut played, that was enough for the Nittany Lions. (TD Paulius)

Kavanagh was the bright spot on offense for the Irish with three goals and two assists but he turned the ball over four times.

Senior attackman Shane Sturgis led Penn State with five goals and an assist on seven shots. He also added three ground balls. Sturgis has been Penn State's leading scorer in all three games and now has 14 goals this season.

"He's had three great games, three great defenders and defenses," Tambroni said. "He continues to play with a tremendous amount of poise and he's slippery with the ball in his stick and he's very good without the ball in his stick. I think that's what makes him so dangerous. You gotta be aware of him both with or without the ball.

"When the game's on the line, he's always got this look in his eye and you feel pretty good as a coach because you feel comfortable he's going to make the right play. And certainly, he made a lot of those today."

Sophomore attackman TJ Sanders (two goals) and senior midfielder Tom LaCrosse (one goal) also scored for the Nittany Lions.

Saturday's game was the third straight between Notre Dame and Penn State decided by one goal. Penn State won 4-3 in overtime two years ago while the Irish won 10-9 in overtime last season.

"We both play a fairly similar style, a lot of it comes from the defensive end, defense first and then down into the offensive end," Tambroni said. "You got two good defenses going after each other and it made for a tightly contested game, certainly not a pretty game but a tightly-contested game. I think that's probably the majority of why that stuff happens each and every year."

Notre Dame has now lost just two of its last 20 February games — both of them to the Nittany Lions. Penn State, meanwhile, extended its road winning streak to 13 games.

For both teams, Saturday's game was just one of many against a ranked opponent. Penn State has three coming up (Ohio State, Denver and Massachusetts) while the Irish have six consecutive games against ranked foes (North Carolina, Denver, Virginia, Ohio State, Syracuse and Duke).

But the win may have meant more to Penn State, who cannot claim an automatic qualifier to get into the NCAA tournament.

"We just gotta find a way," Tambroni said. "Kind of the rallying cry coming into this week is it doesn't matter, it doesn't have to look pretty, but it has to be effective. At the end of the day, we've got to win games if we want to play more than what the regular season holds for us."

Penn State took control of the game at the start of the second half when they took a 7-3 lead following Sanders' second goal of the game with 11:46 remaining in the third. The score was the fourth unanswered by the Nittany Lions and put Notre Dame in a four-goal hole.

The Irish did not gain possession in the third quarter until after the 10-minute mark after freshman faceoff specialist Drake Kreinz won the first three draws of the half.

"Knowing that Drake Kreinz is just is freshman is huge," Tambroni said. "We have a lot of respect for their faceoff unit and last year, they killed us. They scored two or three goals off of faceoff situations. We were concerned about that coming it. I thought Drake held his own."

The Nittany Lions won nine of 19 faceoffs.

The Irish cut the lead to one with 6:30 left in the third on senior attackman Westy Hopkins' diving goal. It was Notre Dame's third goal in less than two minutes.

But Notre Dame was never able to tie it and Penn State held on for the win.

"All in all, we kind of held on," Tambroni said. "I think that's basically what we did. We held on on the offensive end. We held on on the defensive end. And did just enough today which we're thankful for to get the win."

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