UNIVERSITY PARK — It’s something the Penn State men’s hockey team hasn’t felt in quite a while: That winning feeling.
The last time the Nittany Lions won a game, the elation was over in less than 24 hours.
This time they got to savor it for nearly a week, share it with thousands of friends, and are now focused on an encore.
They try to brush it off as just another win, just another step on their long road as a program, but it wasn’t just another win. Beating No. 10 Michigan in front of a packed house for the first Big Ten win in program history is hardly ordinary.
“You try not to let it,” freshman forward Zach Saar said. “But morale’s high. (There’s) a little more jump in everyone’s step and we’re hoping to carry it on through this weekend.”
After breaking a nine-game losing streak, the Nittany Lions will look to keep the ball rolling against Michigan State at 6:30 p.m. Friday and 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Pegula Ice Arena.
The game marks the start of the second half of the conference schedule and provides a chance to see an opponent for a second time.
“We will look at what they did when we played them recently,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “But we sort of have a deal with the coaches that it’s always got to be more about us and not so much about what they do.”
Focusing inward has been repeated all season by Gadowsky, looking at the steps of the process, at the long-term building of the program, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t nice to enjoy a little fruit from all that labor.
“We’ve been together a long time, so we’re very confident in what we do,” Gadowsky said of his coaching staff. “We’ve had a lot of success with it … (but) when you do win a game, especially against a Michigan, in the fashion that we did, you feel more comfortable of the team buy-in to what you’re doing, for sure.”
It was also a nice reward after seven one-goal losses during a stretch since mid-November that saw only one win and a pile of top-ranked teams.
“Everybody felt really good about how they were playing,” Gadowsky said. “For where we are in our program, to come close against a Boston College, and come close against a Minnesota and two teams, Lowell and Union, that went to the Frozen Four, you certainly — everybody knows we’re going in the right direction — but to actually get over the hump is an additional validation of what we’re doing.”
One of those recent one-goal losses was to the Spartans in East Lansing, Mich., on Jan. 18. Twice during that game, Michigan State took a one-goal lead, and twice Penn State rallied to tie it, but Lee Reimer’s goal 3:41 into the third period could not be answered in the 3-2 win.
While the same theme will be recited again about worrying about what the Nittany Lions do and not planning for the Spartans, at least having recent memories of an opponent, and bringing them into Pegula Ice Arena, still makes things more comfortable.
“We as a team do what we do,” sophomore forward Kenny Brooks said. “We don’t really train for anyone. We’re going to do what we do no matter who we’re playing. As far as remembering what happened — we did lose both those games — we do know how they play, we’re a little more familiar with them, that can help us.”
It certainly will not hurt it giving them something they have not seen since early November — consecutive wins.
“The guys are hungry to have opponents interested in what we do,” Gadowsky said, “not just where we play.”