UNIVERSITY PARK — The Penn State men’s ice hockey team is in need of a little more offense.
Hitting the quarter pole of the season, the Nittany Lions’ goal production has dropped from last season, and with the road ahead getting even tougher, the team hopes to find a solution soon.
The team’s top scorers from last season have hardly found the net, and overall there have been struggles to crank up the offense.
After taking last weekend off from games, and the next couple days away on a Thanksgiving break, another serious challenge awaits when the Nittany Lions (3-5-1) return to Pegula Ice Arena to host No. 15 Union on Saturday and Sunday.
Penn State is not exactly suffering on offense, having only been shut out once, but the team has not exactly been filling the net, either.
The Nittany Lions are scoring 2.36 goals per game, which ranks 46th out of 59 Division I teams.
In contrast, they averaged 2.74 goals per game last season, and through the first nine games of the season it was an even 3.0 per game. Of course, the competition was a little easier, and those numbers do not include a pair of early-season Division III opponents.
“We all anticipated that our leading scorers from last year would have more offensive success,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “We weren’t naïve in thinking — last year we knew our first-year program, we knew a lot of teams didn’t take us seriously and this year they would. That’s not a real surprise.”
There have been contributions from a number of newcomers so far, like David Goodwin (3 goals, 3 assists), Eric Scheid (4, 1) and Ricky DeRosa (2, 2).
However, several of last season’s top producers have been largely held silent. Last year’s top four scorers were Casey Bailey (14, 13), David Glen (16, 9), Max Gardiner (3, 19) and Taylor Holstrom (9, 8)
Holstrom (1, 3) is the only one near the top, and Glen and Gardiner each have just one assist this year. Gardiner is out with an injury suffered in the Lions’ last series and is expected to be out again this weekend, ad Glen missed a lot of time after a pair of game misconducts.
However, Gadowsky is still trying to figure out how to light up the scoring fire.
“We added a lot to our depth,” Gadowsky said. “We’re having other guys that are getting minutes that maybe the returners got last year, so that’s part of it, and maybe it’s people knew the success of a Casey Bailey and a David Glen, for example, and are maybe keying on that a little bit more. Who knows? Maybe it’s a little of that sophomore jinx.”
Gadowsky also felt the Nittany Lions were finally starting to turn a corner on their season in their last game.
After falling behind 3-1 in the first period to Massachusetts Lowell, which has moved up to No. 8 in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll, Penn State put together two strong periods and held its own against the River Hawks the rest of the way.
There is disappointment the team has to wait 15 days to play again, but it gave them something to focus on through all these practice sessions.
“Even though we didn’t beat UMass-Lowell, I think the guys believe this as well, I think we probably did have our best team game of the year,” Gadowsky said. “I think a lot of guys are hungry to get back at it to see, just to keep going. We started out slow. Eamon (McAdam, the goalie) probably wanted the first two back, but then he played very well the second half and I thought the team played very well the second half. I think guys are hungry to see if we can continue that.”
It is a challenging stretch for the Nittany Lions, who follow this weekend’s two games with the start of Big Ten play and a visit to No. 12 Wisconsin on Dec. 6 and 7.
The Dutchmen (6-3-2), a Frozen Four team in 2012, will pose a threat in a number of ways. They have won three straight and five of their last six games.
While Penn State’s offense has been struggling, Union is hot, ranked fifth in the nation at 3.82 goals per game, and the power play converts on 23 percent of its chances, which is 11th in the country.
The defense is pretty solid as well. The Dutchmen have allowed 2.64 goals per game, a mere 27th in Division I, but have allowed four goals over the last three games and more impressively a total of 50 shots — an average of 16.67 per game. That includes a 3-0 shutout of No. 14 Cornell, holding the Big Red to just 11 shots all night.
Penn State announced its recruiting class from the National Letter of Intent early signing period last week, and the list was pretty short – forward James Robinson.
The native of Cochrane, Alberta, Canada, is in his second season playing for Langley in the British Columbia Hockey League, a league that produced current Nittany Lions Curtis Loik, Luke Juha and David Thompson. Robinson had nine goals and 33 assists last season for Langley and is a team captain this season.
“He fits our mold,” Gadowsky said. “If you look at guys like David Glen and Dylan Richard, he’s a guy that competes hard, but is really aware of both ends of the ice. He’s not a guy that’s putting up ridiculous numbers playing offense. He’s a real character guy.”
While Gadowsky said there may be other additions later, the recruiting class is so small because only one scholarship player will be lost — senior forward Mike McDonagh.