The Penn State men’s hockey team does not live, or play, in a bubble. Players know members of other Nittany Lion teams, and they also know — even when they are playing Michigan — they are not always the biggest game of the weekend.
Such was the case Saturday, when a football game played in Columbus, Ohio, affected play at Pegula Ice Arena. Despite an announced sellout crowd, there were scores of empty seats, the student section was two-thirds full at best and the energy and enthusiasm was far below the usual standard in a 5-2 loss to Michigan.
The puck dropped a few minutes after 8 p.m., about 50 minutes after the end of the football team’s 39-38 loss to Ohio State. The hockey team was watching football on televisions outside their locker room, and even coach Guy Gadowsky was glued to the action in another part of the building.
“Everybody’s watching it. How could you not?” Gadowsky asked Monday, referring to the nationally televised football game on FOX. “It was unbelievable.”
In an ideal world, one game should not affect another, but in hindsight he said he should have addressed the issue.
“Either way, whether it had impact or not, it’s our responsibility to be ready to play, jack up our energy regardless of how, possibly, the mood is,” Gadowsky said. ‘That was such a great game, such a tough (loss). I mean, like, I felt it. But we can’t use that as any excuse whatsoever.”
After the game Saturday night, Wolverine coach Mel Pearson said he sympathized with how deflated the entire campus and town can feel, but “you just hope your team understands it’s a hockey weekend, not a football weekend.”
Assistant captain Chase Berger said he tries to shut off his attention to the outside world about 90 minutes before games start, but he and his teammates took responsibility.
“It’s kind of on us to be ready for the game,” junior assistant captain Chase Berger said. “If that stuff’s going to distract you, you just can’t watch the game. I don’t think it distracted us that much, for me personally it didn’t have an effect. I think if some guys were affected, it’s a sign for them that maybe they can’t handle watching the game beforehand.”
Still No. 1
When asked specifically if Peyton Jones is still the team’s No. 1 goalie, Gadowsky gave a simple, one-word answer: Yes.
The sophomore remains the definite top goaltender on the roster, even if his performances over the last few weeks have not been up to his standards. In his last four starts, Jones has surrendered 20 goals.
The numbers are a far cry from the 2.60 goals-against average of last season, especially his near-heroic play in the Big Ten tournament, and he is not looking like one of the 20 nominees for the Mike Richter Award, given annually to the nation’s top college goaltender.
Gadowsky admitted his knowledge of the goalie position is limited, so his judgment about playing time is based not on style and mechanics, but mostly on tangible information like wins, goals-against, save percentage, work ethic and commitment to the team.
“Yeah, I would like our defensive numbers to be better,” Gadowsky said. “You can’t always attribute that to goaltending, but I would like our numbers to be better and I’m sure Peyton would agree.”
With the rough stretch for Jones over a mere four-game span out of a season that will last into March, the coach does not think it is a trend just yet.
“Pucks are rubber and they bounce,” Gadowsky said. “There’s refs, and there’s goalies, and there’s posts, and odd things happen. But that was our most consistent weekend.”
Christian Berger gave a verbal commitment to the program earlier in October, following the footsteps of his brother Chase to Penn State. They do not figure to be teammates, with Christian expected to enroll for the 2019-20 school year, the season following Chase’s expected graduation.
Christian Berger is a defenseman playing junior hockey this season for Madison of the USHL. He made his decision after getting input from Chase, much like the Nittany Lion junior talked to their eldest brother, Jack, who played for Gadowsky when he was the coach at Princeton.
“I tried to be as unbiased as I could,” Chase Berger said. “But he knows how I feel about the coaching staff and the program. My older brother told me kind of what he thought about the coaching staff and all great reviews. I think we really respect him as a coach, as well as a person.”
Gadowsky had no updates on injuries to forwards Andrew Sturtz and Brandon Biro and defenseman Kevin Kerr. Sturtz and Biro both suffered undisclosed injuries Friday. Kerr has missed the last three weekends. Gadowsky said he would not have information on their status until Thursday.