UNIVERSITY PARK — For the last few weeks, it had been rather evident that Penn State ice hockey coach Guy Gadowsky was a little disappointed in the play of his team.
There were benchmarks and expectations that were not being met, and the Nittany Lions did not seem to be picking up where they left off last season.
Even as recently as Thursday night, following a 4-0 loss to No. 13 Massachusetts-Lowell, Gadowsky was expressing his disappointment in some areas of play on the ice.
While the record of 3-5-1 may not be that far off realistic expectations, it was aspects of play on which Gadowsky was focused.
The coach’s disposition was brightened considerably the next night.
“We feel a lot better,” Gadowsky said Tuesday. “It was nice to put that together against a very strong opponent, absolutely. We have a lot of optimism because of it.”
Over the span of 24 hours, so many parts of the Nittany Lions’ game showed improvement against the River Hawks. They cut down on Lowell’s rebound opportunities, improved the defense, they moved the puck better, cut down on penalties and played more disciplined in general.
One of the biggest byproducts was displayed on the scoreboard, improving from that 4-0 loss to a 3-2 setback, including a power play goal for Eric Scheid, converting a turnover into a score for David Goodwin and shutting down a strong opponent after the first period.
“We played very, very well in a number of areas,” Gadowsky said. “A vast improvement from where we had been many games before that.”
It’s one of those acknowledgements of a second-year program that when facing a highly-ranked opponent that had played in the national championship game last spring, that maybe silver linings have to be found among the losses. Soon enough there will be expectations to beat these teams, but not yet.
At this point, and even for the foreseeable future, the Nittany Lion coaches will not be worrying too much about a game plan for an opponent, but keeping the focus internal. They have a lot of pieces still to put into place, and a broad foundation to build, before they can start worrying about what the opposition will be doing.
“We’re asking them to concentrate on the areas that we can control, that we improved on,” Gadowsky said. “It’s tough because you get very optimistic about certain things, and then you do though have to remind yourself, this is a second-year of this program and these teams.”
Cracking the glass
Penn State actually played its best hockey after a fluke incident in Friday’s game — when a pane of glass in front of the student section was broken about midway through the second period.
The break of 11 minutes was almost like having a third intermission, and Gadowsky pointed out he has often seen such incidents kill the mood in an arena — but not on Friday.
“Everywhere else that the glass gets broken, the game goes down the tubes,” Gadowsky said. “It’s boring, people leave, it’s awful. With the Penn State students, and the community got into it too because of the students, it was a great time.”
Those running the entertainment at Pegula Ice Arena — there was no Blue Band to help spice up the mood last week — cranked up the music, showed students dancing on the giant screens hanging over the ice and kept the mood festive throughout the break.
“I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the glass being broken,” Gadowsky said. “I’m serious. That was the most fun. This is the best place in the world.”
When some players tried to stay focused on the game, it caught the attention of some and seemed to loosen up the Nittany Lions.
“The student section was pretty cool,” forward Kenny Brooks said. “I actually really enjoyed watching all that happening in the arena. It’s pretty cool that when you have that timeout, the crowd doesn’t die. They got going a little bit more.”
A different perspective
Gadowsky was not on the ice or on the bench for Tuesday’s practice, he was about a dozen rows up in the seats taking notes.
He said it is something he has done in the past and gives him a better view of who is doing what — and how well — on the ice.
“I like doing that,” Gadowsky said. “I’d like to do that a lot more. The plan coming into this year was to do that a lot more. As we go on I hope to. You see a lot more.”
The Nittany Lions are off this weekend and do not play again until Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 against No. 17 Union, another powerful opponent. After a slow start, the Dutchmen (6-3-2) are 5-1-1 in their last seven games, beating its three ranked opponents.
Penn State will be focusing on conditioning and working on those areas they were looking to find improvement. The Nittany Lions will work through the weekend and next Tuesday before taking two days off for Thanksgiving.
No news is …
Gadowsky had little to report with injuries. Nate Jensen, who was hobbled on Friday, was back and skating at full strength on Tuesday. The coach did not have any information on anyone else, including Max Gardiner, who left early Thursday and did not return.