UNIVERSITY PARK — It was a loss, but members of the Penn State men’s ice hockey team were talking almost like it was a win.
“That was probably the most complete game that we’ve played since I’ve been at Penn State,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “There’s a lot to be happy about. They’re a great team. I thought we responded really well.”
“We skated with them all game,” forward Max Gardiner said. “We had our chances to take a lead in the third, but in the end they scored a nice goal.”
All the Nittany Lions (3-9-1) could take away was a moral victory, and while that may seem a little hollow, they are trying to keep their eyes on a bigger picture, knowing there is much to left to learn.
On the heels of a 7-1 loss last Friday night, with the game really getting away from the Nittany Lions in the second half of the contest, the team bounced back to only fall 4-3 to No. 15 Wisconsin on Saturday.
Penn State had a lead in the game, nearly matched the Badgers in the shot total (31-30) and the contest was knotted 3-3 in the third period.
The bottom line was a loss, the team’s sixth straight. They haven’t won since Nov. 8, and do not play again until after Christmas, but the team was rather upbeat after Tuesday’s practice when discussing Penn State’s opening weekend of Big Ten action.
“If we are able to duplicate that performance, then we’re going to have some success in the Big Ten, maybe this year,” Gadowsky said. “I thought that was a great step for us.”
Gadowsky said the team played a full 60 minutes of “Penn State hockey,” which is more or less defined as a blue-collar style of digging in the corners and having to out-work the opponent.
The stretches of that kind of play have become more common, but the quest is to string not only periods of that kind of play together, but now they would like to string multiple games together.
“(We are) a whole lot closer than we were in October, and even in November,” Gadowsky said. “I’m not so sure if we can guarantee that every game we play we’re going to have 60 minutes like we had, but certainly the fact that we did it against an excellent team, and we played well … there were a lot of things to be happy about.”
One of the mysteries still to be solved is why the team has been playing better on the second night of a two-game series after a poor showing on the first night.
It was a common occurrence last season, and it has continued through the first 13 games of this season.
“I don’t know what the reason has been,” Gadowsky said. “Everything is pretty new to us. Pretty much everything we do is new and maybe the first time through you’re a little tight.”
An additional influence to such a trend, at least for last weekend, was Penn State’s first foray into Big Ten play, and Gadowsky admitted his team was a little tight that night.
“We just made some big mistakes on Friday night and it cost us,” Gardiner said. “That’s what’s going to happen in the Big Ten with these top teams. If you make mistakes they’ll make you pay.”
But they bounced back and got their moral victory, and will try to turn them into real victories soon enough.
“We just have to remember the way we played that last game against Wisconsin,” forward and team captain Tommy Olczyk said. “It was fun. It’s fun to play like that. It’s heartbreaking to lose a game like that. … But you’ve got to be able to take the positives and take the confidence that we gained from that game.”
Take a break
Penn State does not return to the ice until Dec. 27 when it faces Robert Morris at the Three Rivers Classic at Consol Energy Center.
The team will practice all this week, have optional skating time without any coaching next week during finals, then take a few days off. There will be another optional practice on Dec. 25 before the team is officially together Dec. 26 for a quick practice before heading to Pittsburgh.
With nearly three weeks between games, they will try not to lose all that was gained in that last game.
“It’s definitely going to be hard,” Olczyk said. “I wish there wasn’t a break. I’m sure other guys feel the same way, and then there’s other guys who are injured right now, maybe hurting a little bit.”