UNIVERSITY PARK — It had been so long since the Penn State men’s hockey team had a lead, the Nittany Lions didn’t know what to do with it.
It turned into a learning experience.
For the first time since the calendar turned to 2014, Penn State held a lead on an opponent — 2-0 against Ohio State last Saturday — and the team was forced to play from in front.
It did not go as well as hoped.
“We’re in uncharted territory a little bit,” coach Guy Gadowsky said Tuesday, reflecting on the weekend. “I don’t think we handled it very well. We handled it like a young team, but it’s great to have that experience. We’re going to be better the next time we get that opportunity.”
The Nittany Lions scored twice in the first 6:24 against the Buckeyes, and played one of the better periods of hockey for the season.
The bad news was, there was still 40 minutes to play, and when they returned from the locker room after the first intermission, Ohio State skated to a 5-2 victory.
Still, the 21:05 of game time the Nittany Lions held the lead, until the Buckeyes tied it 3:36 into the second period, was the first time Penn State was in front at any point in a game since Dec. 28 against Boston College. The Eagles went on to win that game 8-2, starting the team’s current eight-game slide.
It felt good to be in front, but the Nittany Lions now need to get over the elation and maintain the advantage.
“We need to learn to play with the lead,” said sophomore forward Curtis Loik, who will join his teammates for a series against No. 10 Michigan on Friday and Saturday at Pegula Ice Arena. “We haven’t done that in a while. That’s something we need to work on. We’ve added that to our list of things we need to do.”
Suffering through losing 14 out of the last 15 games has been tough. It also hasn’t helped most of those losses — 10 of them — have been to ranked teams. With the rest of the season filled with Big Ten teams, including this weekend against the Wolverines, breaking the skid will not be easy.
“It is frustrating,” Loik said. “But we’ve been working at it, and one of these days it’s going to open up and we’re going to flourish. It’s not like we have breaks against mediocre teams.”
Following last Friday’s 5-1 loss to Ohio State, Gadowsky benched team captain Tommy Olczyk for Saturday’s game against the Buckeyes. While he did not divulge details about the move, the coach said the decision was a message directed more to the team than about anything the junior forward did.
“He knows why,” Gadowsky said. “He knows exactly what the reasons were. He was as positive a cheerleader for the guys as you would think. His maturity in terms of the big-picture thinking is so far, so mature, so beyond his years. He knew what was up, why it happened and was extremely positive with the team.”
Gadowsky said he plans to have Olczyk back on the ice Friday.
Glen still recovering
David Glen underwent a five-day process to make a peripheral blood stem cell donation for bone marrow last week, forcing him to miss the last three games. The donation was made to help save the life of a woman Glen does not know.
The process was draining, and Gadowsky was unsure if the sophomore forward would have the stamina to play this weekend.
“He’s certainly not himself yet,” Gadowsky said. “But he’s got a few days left. We’ll see how he is come Thursday.”
Aside from Glen, Gadowsky said there were no other injuries of note for the weekend.
New, yet familiar
While Friday’s 7 p.m. game will mark the first meeting between the Nittany Lions and Wolverines — the last Big Ten team Penn State has met — there will be someone on the ice who has skated on campus before.
Freshman JT Compher was a member of the U.S. national under-18 team that played a pair of games at Greenberg Ice Pavilion last season. Compher scored a goal during the two-game series, which the teams split.
The second-round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres leads the Big Ten and is sixth in the nation for scoring as a freshman with nine goals and 12 assists.
“He’s a tough, honest player,” Gadowsky said, clarifying “honest” as someone who doesn’t cut corners. “It’s tough not to watch his game and really respect how he plays the game. He’s good on both sides of the puck. He’s tough. He plays a real honest game, although he puts up points, he’s a great player.”
Michigan coach Red Barenson is one win away from a major milestone. A victory this weekend will give him 784 career victories, which would leave him alone in fourth place for all-time Division I coaching victories. He is currently tied with Rick Comley, who led a number of teams including Michigan State and Lake Superior State.
After Gadowsky was finished speaking and a number of media members were talking with some Nittany Lion players, goaltenders Eamon McAdam and Matthew Skoff strolled into the room — in full gear including skates, pads and helmets.
“This is odd,” Loik said, stopping mid-sentence as the goalies arrived.
“We saw (freshman forward Dylan Richard) and he said we had media,” McAdam said. “We thought we’d cruise over right away.”
“We thought we’d get it overwith,” Skoff said, adding their wardrobe was, “business cas (casual).”
Flying the colors
With the Olympics starting this week in Sochi, Russia, the goaltenders know a little something about putting on Team USA jerseys. Both have put in time for the U.S. junior programs, with McAdam playing with the U.S. junior select team.
“It’s an honor and you kind of get an extra buzz every time you put a jersey on,” McAdam said. “It makes it even easier to play, easier to get fired up when you have the red, white and blue on.”
Both acknowledge there is extra pressure with that jersey, but it is definitely worth experiencing.
“There is more pressure, but there’s a lot more good energy,” McAdam said. “That kind of outweighs the pressure that gets put on you.”
“There is more pressure,” Skoff said. “You get picked to wear red, white and blue for a reason.”