UNIVERSITY PARK — It’s only natural to be looking ahead, thinking about a big game later in the week.
Penn State men’s ice hockey coach Guy Gadowsky will have none of that.
The only important game is Tuesday night, and looking past one game to another is already a lesson learned the hard way earlier this season.
“We’ve got one game, it’s (Tuesday) night and it’s against an opponent that beat us last year,” Gadowsky said.
The Nittany Lions will face Nuemann University, a Division III program from Philadelphia, at 7:30 p.m. at Greenberg Ice Pavilion. The marquee event of the week, however, is Saturday night at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, when Penn State meets Vermont a few hours after the Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins face off to start the NHL season in the same arena.
So with that on the horizon, why invest too much effort in the Knights on Tuesday?
Penn State learned about looking past an opponent earlier this season, when it laid a 3-0 egg at Division III Buffalo State a night before beating RIT 3-2 in front of more than 10,000 fans. A few weeks later, they drubbed club program Arizona State 8-3, then the next night sleepwalked to a 3-1 loss to those same Sun Devils.
“You can’t take anybody lightly,” forward Casey Bailey said. “You saw what happened when we played Arizona State — we took them lightly, we lost to them. We took Buffalo State lightly, we lost to them. We’re the type of team that needs to work hard to get wins and we need to show up (Tuesday) to get the win for sure.”
At least most team members have in their memories last season, when Penn State lost 6-3 to Neumann on an outdoor rink in Philadelphia as part of the NHL’s Winter Classic festivities.
“We’ll worry about Vermont when it comes to that,” said forward Justin Kirchhevel said. “Right now we’re focused on Neumann.”
What does Gadowsky think about the big game this weekend?
“There is no game in Philly,” he said.
And how will he keep his players from thinking past Tuesday’s game?
“By not mentioning there’s a game in Philly.”
Getting one back
The Nittany Lions have had a number of injuries this season, but they get one of their key pieces back this week with Kirchhevel returning after suffering a concussion against Arizona State on Nov. 30.
“I hit a guy and I actually got the worst of it,” Kirchhevel said of the play that sidelined him. “I was feeling wobbly, and when I came back on the ice I couldn’t see the puck that well and I figured I better go ask what’s wrong.”
The junior was idle for a month, unable to even work on conditioning, then when he got cleared he had to regain what was lost before he could return to game action.
“It’s frustrating,” Kirchhevel said. “You can’t do anything, you can’t rehab for it, you’ve just got to sit there and wait for the symptoms to go away and then come back to it.”
Gadowsky is glad to have Kirchhevel back, especially for the speed he brings to the ice.
“It’s good to have him back,” Gadowsky said. “He’s a guys that ... adds speed, he adds some grit, a little bit of attitude to our team. I think we’re all interested in how he fits in the role that he’s asked to play.”
While one Nittany Lion returns, the team is still having injury issues. Defenseman Luke Juha has officially been lost for the rest of the season with an abdominal injury, and Nate Jensen also has been knocked out for a few days with an “upper body injury,” according to Gadowsky, but should be back soon, possibly by this weekend (if there was a game that night). Both were missing during last weekend’s games against the U.S. under-18 national team.
On the other hand, defenseman Brian Dolan, who also was out last weekend, will be back Tuesday to give Penn State six defensemen instead of the five the team had available against Team USA.
“Especially with the ups and downs of the first season, we’re playing a lot of good teams,” Kirchhevel said. “You really need a healthy squad, but we’re showing a lot more depth than I thought we had.”
Not likely to be skating Tuesday night is forward Taylor Holstrom, who was given a game misconduct midway through Saturday’s 3-0 loss. Gadowsky only said after the game the infraction was “verbal” moments after two other players slid into and dislodged the Penn State net.
On Monday, Gadowsky danced around whether the sophomore would play.
“He is — eligible,” Gadowsky said, pausing. Then when asked if he was in the coach’s doghouse, Gadowsky replied, “He’s not in our ‘doghouse.’ He might not play, that doesn’t mean he’s in our doghouse.”
After stellar performances by both goalies over the weekend — Matthew Skoff made 47 saves in a 5-2 win and P.J. Musico made 41 saves in a 3-0 loss — Gadowsky said Musico would be starting Tuesday and, while “there is no Saturday,” Skoff will be in net.
Trip to Hershey
Penn State has one more game on neutral ice this season, facing club program and former ACHA rival Ohio at the Giant Center in Hershey on Feb. 1.
The Penn State Men’s Hockey Booster Club is organizing a bus trip to the game, $40 for club members and $50 for non-members, which includes the game ticket as well as bus fare to and from the game that day. Go to www.boostersforpsumenshockey.com for more information.
The deadline to register is Thursday, and the club might cancel the trip if not enough people register by then.