UNIVERSITY PARK — It’s another one of those tricky weeks for the Penn State ice hockey team.
They are coming off two big weekends with some impressive success, and the young program has reason to be feeling good and confident.
Now, a club program is visiting, and the Nittany Lions should be winning with ease.
But these Lions have a track record of not taking an opponent seriously.
“You have to stay mentally tough,” sophomore forward and team captain Tommy Olczyk said. “It doesn’t matter who we play, it doesn’t matter what level the other team is, hockey’s hockey. Every team has a chance to win on any given night.”
Penn State has a two-game series with Ohio, with Friday’s game at the Giant Center in Hershey and Saturday’s at the Greenberg Ice Pavilion. It renews a long-standing rivalry from their days in the ACHA, but the Bobcats are nonetheless a club team paying a visit to a Division I program.
The Nittany Lions should be heavily favored, except they have a spotty track record this season. They beat club program Arizona State 8-3 on night, then lost 3-1 the next, and have twice lost to Division III teams.
“Now that we’re labeled a D-1 program, we shouldn’t, we can’t lose to a club team and we did earlier this year and it makes us look really bad,” senior forward Eric Steinour said. “Not just for the organization, to say we lost to a club team, but it’s a pride thing too.”
Last weekend Penn State beat Michigan State 3-2, a night after being tied 3-3 late in the third period. The previous Saturday they beat Vermont 4-2. They should be confident, but head coach Guy Gadowsky doesn’t want to see overconfidence.
“We want to see if we learn a lesson,” Gadowsky said. “We’re not going to go in and kick garbage cans, break sticks. We’re going to do things as is and see if we’ve learned this lesson along the way.”
Gadowsky had plenty to say to his team after the last bad loss, falling to Division III Neumann on home ice earlier this month. Now, he is watching how his players handle the situation.
Having the most to say likely will be the seniors, who spent so much time with the Icers club program when its biggest rival was Ohio. It will be their job to convey how much beating the Bobcats means to the history of the program, regardless of the current levels of the two programs.
“A lot of the freshmen don’t understand what the Ohio weekend means to a lot of us older players,” Steinour said. “This rivalry dates back to years before I was here. … I’ve just grown over the years to look forward to this weekend. This is one of my most favorite weekends of play just because of the battles that go on.”
The puck drops at 7 p.m. Friday at the Giant Center and at 7:30 p.m. Saturday back on campus.
While construction continues not far away on the program’s future home at the Pegula Ice Arena, the Nittany Lions still have to call the Greenberg Ice Pavilion home a little while longer. The team, and everyone else who uses the place, are hoping the 32-year-old building makes it to the finish line.
A motor burned up on one of the compressors, and maintenance crews were furiously working to repair it with only one working compressor to keep the ice frozen. After their practice Tuesday players said the ice was mushy in spots, and the women’s team had to deal with it in their game against Princeton on Tuesday night.
“The ice will stay up with one compressor,” associate athletic director Joe Battista said. “It’s not the best ice, and now you don’t have the redundancy. You lose that (second) compressor, now you’ve got a swimming pool.”
Friday’s game will be the last on this season’s schedule in which Penn State plays a neutral-site contest somewhere else in the state. The Nittany Lions earlier played games in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Wilkes-Barre.
With only 1,300 seats in their home arena, the games have allowed the program to broaden its marketing, to bring in more interest from alumni and get a lot more eyes on their team. They had 5,389 on hand in Wilkes-Barre, over 10,000 for each of two games in Pittsburgh and 19,529 in Philadelphia.
“This was a way that we could take the product out to them and give them a chance to see us,” Gadowsky said. “It’s really exciting for us. Everywhere we’ve been … they’ve had a great turnout of Penn Staters. That’s fantastic.”
With 10,500 seats in Hershey, the Nittany Lions are hoping for one more strong turnout to rev up the team away from State College.
“Any time that you play in a pro rink, it’s something to look forward to,” Olczyk said. “I think that will give us a little extra energy.”