UNIVERSITY PARK — Mired in their longest losing streak of the season with two games preceding a long winter break layoff, members of the Penn State hockey team haven’t lost their confidence.
A three-game skid hasn’t deterred them. A futile power play hasn’t discouraged them.
And they aren’t about to let their latest loss — a penalty-laden affair against Holy Cross in which the Nittany Lions hit crossbar after crossbar, racked up 40 penalty minutes, gave up a soft goal from center ice and had one of their own disallowed — rattle them.
“We’re making strides,” freshman forward David Glenn said. “We have to stick to our foundation and keep creating an identity. I don’t think we’ve really established it yet. I think we’re working toward it and making strides every game.”
The next opportunity to salvage some positive momentum heading into winter break comes on the road tonight when Penn State (6-7) takes on Fredonia State (5-7) at Steele Hall at 7 p.m.
The Blue Devils find themselves in a similar position to their Nittany Lion counterparts. Fredonia State split its last two games but has lost five of its last six.
“Any Division III, club team we play is going to play it like it’s Game 7,” Penn State freshman forward Casey Bailey said. “They’re going to want to beat us. They’re playing a Division I team so we’ve got to be mentally tough and know that and bring the same mentality and not take them lightly.”
While the Nittany Lions wait for their permanent home — the 200,000 square foot Pegula Ice Arena — to be finished, their power play is just as much a work in progress during this transitional season.
Penn State has scored just four goals against fellow Division I teams with a man advantage. The Nittany Lions netted three power-play tallies in an 8-3 win over ACHA foe Arizona State four games ago. Over the last six games, Penn State has surrendered five power play goals on 24 tries and scored just the three against the Sun Devils. Penn State has had 18 power plays in its last six games and 53 total on the season.
The Nittany Lions are scoring on their power play just .075 percent of the time.
“We’re trying to get more pucks to the net. It’s really that simple,” Penn State assistant coach Matt Lindsay said. “We want to get more pucks to the net and that’s what we’ve been trying to get across to our guys, when you have the opportunity to shoot the puck — shoot the puck.”
Some chaos in front of opposing netminders would help, too.
While Penn State’s power play has been mostly ineffective, it hasn’t helped that freshman forward Jonathan Milley went down with a hip injury in early November. Milley, who scored the first power-play goal in program history on Oct. 13, returned to the lineup last Friday.
“I think the main focus is to get pucks behind guys and get players to the net,” Bailey said. “I think that’s going to make a successful power play and if we get better with that I think our power play will get better with it.”
At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Milley fits the mold as a net-front terror.
“With a big body like that, with good skills in front, he’s obviously missed out there when he’s not on the ice,” Glenn said.
His teammates have seen Milley outmuscle smaller players, clear the opposing goaltender’s crease and park his big frame in front to help set up screens for much of the season. While Milley is fourth on the team with four goals, he leads Penn State with half of its power play goals.
Penn State players are hoping Milley can continue that trend tonight. The Blue Devils’ penalty kill has snuffed out 45 of 60 opponents’ power plays this season.
“(Milley’s) hard to move when he’s in front of the net. I think that will help us,” Bailey said. “He has a knack for finding and scoring goals when he’s around the net, so that definitely helps having him in the lineup.”