UNIVERSITY PARK — It’s a good news/bad news scenario for the Penn State ice hockey team when looking at its defensive lineup.
The good news? Mark Yanis will return to the ice for the first time in two months.
The bad news? Even with the return of the big defenseman, the Nittany Lions are facing the possibility of only having five healthy blue-liners for this weekend’s games.
“Over the break we got worse,” coach Guy Gadowsky said of a slew of injuries to the defense. He declined to go into specifics, other than mentioning freshman Luke Juha also may be out for this weekend, but he thought it was a real possibility they could be a man short instead of the usual rotation of six defensemen.
The Nittany Lions play a pair of exhibition games this weekend, hosting the U.S. under-18 national team at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Greenberg Ice Pavilion.
Yanis left the ice Nov. 3 when he suffered a broken ankle against Buffalo State. He returned to skating last week and has been working on his conditioning. He will play Friday, and how he does and how well he recovers will determine whether he plays Saturday.
“It’s a little inconvenient,” Yanis said of the timing of returning while teammates are going down. “For me, it’s good for me to get back in it. I may play a few more shifts than I would have. But overall I’m pretty excited to get back out there and get back out with the team.”
The 6-foot-3, 207-pound freshman said he will have a little extra padding on his ankle, and he hasn’t had any difficulties stopping and starting or doing any quick moves on the ice in practice.
“Once the game gets going and you’re into the game, you’re paying attention (to the game) too much,” Yanis said of any concerns. “Maybe when I block a shot, but I’m not going to hesitate to hit or block shots.”
Regardless of any other injuries, Gadowsky has been hoping to see his team’s biggest defenseman for weeks.
“We get Mark back, which is huge,” Gadowsky said. “… He brings two components which we really don’t have a lot of --- he brings a lot of size and toughness, and he’s got a bomb of a shot.”
It may be listed as an exhibition game, and the team may be filled with teenagers, but this weekend’s opponent will hardly be a pushover.
The U.S. team has been playing a tough schedule since late September across the country against a variety of competion, from teams in the USHL to Division I and III programs. They beat Michigan in Ann Arbor last Friday and tied No. 1 Minnesota and No. 2 Notre Dame in October.
Penn State is coming off two losses at Connecticut last weekend, which followed a win over Ohio State the previous weekend.
“We’re nowhere near where we have to be to compete with the Ohio States consistently,” Gadowsky said.
“This gives us a chance to improve and work on things in a game situation that we’re trying to work on here.”
In the sling of things
Penn State fans may notice a different look for Gadowsky this weekend, with his left arm in a sling. The coach had surgery on his rotator cuff during the holidays and he said he will be in a sling for six weeks and slowed up for a few months after that. There was no incident that precipitated the need for surgery, just something that needed to be done for a while.
It also means he will not be able to skate with the team during practices, instead sticking to the bench.
“Some would question if I could before,” Gadowsky joked about his skating ability.
The biggest hockey news for the week was the NHL’s owners and players union finally agreeing on new deal. The collective bargaining agreement still needs to be ratified, but the game should be returning to the ice soon, and it has team members happy.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit for TV, so it’ll be really nice to have it back and catch a few games,” said freshman forward David Glen, a native of Alberta, Canada, and an Edmonton Oilers fan.
“It’s not local around here,” Yanis said, “but I’ll be watching the (Detroit Red) Wings online quite a bit.”
“I feel bad that we’ve been this long without it,” Gadowsky said. “I love coming home and watching highlights. I love if there’s a game on, even if I can watch 20 minutes of it, I love it. My boys love it. They asked me the other way, “When can we watch hockey again?’ It’s a great thing.”
Hockey night in Philly
The NHL has not yet made anything official, since the Players Association still has to approve the CBA with the league, but the hot rumor being circulated has the season opening Jan. 19, with the Pittsburgh Penguins visiting the Philadelphia Flyers that afternoon — and the Nittany Lions facing Vermont that night in the Wells Fargo Center. The mere possibility of such a rumor has the team’s attention.
“Not a bad warmup game for us,” Gadowsky joked. “I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it’s pretty cool.”
About 16,000 tickets have already been sold for the Nittany Lions’ game, and the athletic department has organized a deal for students only with $30 for a game ticket and seat on a bus to and from Philadelphia. The tickets are being sold through the Bryce Jordan Center ticket office.