UNIVERSITY PARK — It was the latest step in the growth of the Penn State men’s ice hockey program.
The Nittany Lions not only put together 60 minutes of high-quality play in back-to-back games, but did so against the nation’s top-ranked team.
Now comes the next step: They have to start winning.
The next chance comes this weekend, when Penn State visits Michigan State for a pair of 6:30 p.m. games Friday and Saturday.
The coaches are getting more satisfied with what they are seeing on the ice and seeing accomplishments in their own small metrics within games, but it is time to see it pay off on the scoreboard.
“We’re disappointed we didn’t come away with a win, but you’ve got to be very encouraged,” coach Guy Gadowsky said Wednesday, having two days to digest a pair of losses to No. 1 Minnesota. “If you look at the number of games we’ve played, I think we might still be in our first season of Division I hockey. To do that and to be able to play with – certainly I’m not suggesting that we are at a point where we can beat – but we showed that we can play with the top team in the nation. That’s extremely encouraging.”
The Golden Gophers won 3-2 on Sunday night at Pegula Ice Arena, then skated away 5-2 on Monday.
In Sunday’s game, the contest was knotted 2-2 and the Nittany Lions had a few chances to take the lead, but were never able to cash in.
On Monday, the Lions were not in the running on the scoreboard, but took 13 more shots than the Gophers and never let the game get too far away from them.
It’s something that could not be said in their previous game, an 8-2 loss to No. 5 Boston College when the Eagles filled the net in the latter half of the game.
“We had three opportunities in a row to play some of the best college teams in the nation,” Gadowsky said. “The first night we played well early, but then got caught standing back and watching a little bit and we let our opponent dictate the game. Sunday night we played our game pretty much the entire time but wasn’t extremely effective. I thought Monday night we pretty much played our game the entire time and was more effective. We’re getting better and better at our game.”
Among the specific places Gadowsky has seen improvement, the team has cut down on turnovers, they have not taken as many penalties and they are taking more shots.
They also have been doing well winning faceoffs. Against Minnesota, Penn State lost the battle of draws 33-32 on Sunday, and won it 40-36 on Monday.
“It’s a little thing, but it’s a little thing that happens at least 60 times a game,” Gadowsky said. “When you look at it that way, you can say battling for the puck is a little thing but we’re going to throw a puck in the air 60 times, boy then it becomes a really big thing. If you win the vast majority of those, then you’re getting possession 20 more times than the other team and it is a big thing.”
Freshman goalie Eamon McAdam also had his two best games of the season, even if his personal record dropped to 0-6. He turned back 42 of 45 shots Sunday, with several in spectacular fashion, and stopped 20 of 25 shots Monday.
Even with the losses, McAdam felt there is plenty to help him gain confidence for later in the season.
“Whenever you’re making big saves it’s something you can look back on if you need a little motivation here or there,” McAdam said. “Making those kind of saves against a team of that caliber gives you a lot of confidence looking forward to the rest of the schedule.”
With two road games this weekend in a place where they have won before — the Nittany Lions split two games with the Spartans last season — the team is now looking at putting all the pieces together.
“This past weekend was the best we’ve done at doing what we need to do,” defenseman Patrick Koudys said. “I think we’re coming into our own and doing what we need to do, but now we need to start winning games.”
Gadowsky said junior defenseman Joseph Lordo has left the team for personal reasons, and did not elaborate. Lordo played in nearly every game last season but did not see the ice this season. … Gadowsky also said everyone is healthy for the series with the Spartans, including junior forward Jacob Friedman, who had missed time with a head injury. He also said many on the team battled through illness last weekend. … Both of this weekend’s games will be on television: Friday on Big Ten Network and Saturday on NBC Sports Network.