Andrew Sturtz’s importance to the Penn State hockey team can’t be measured strictly with numbers.
The way he competes, plus his emotions and positivity, also play a major role.
“He’s a pit bull,” coach Guy Gadowsky said Tuesday in his weekly session with the media. “He just finds a way to score goals.”
When he was booted from Saturday’s 5-1 loss to Ohio State with a game misconduct, his absence was felt in many ways.
Sturtz exited with 6:17 left in the first period after delivering a huge hit on Ohio State’s Janik Moser. The junior drew a five-minute major along with a game misconduct. With the two teams battling for second place in the Big Ten, it was a big loss.
“Going into that game, it was a huge game, a lot of emotion,” Sturtz said after having a few days to reflect. “Laid the hit, and after I saw it I think I did deserve to get kicked out. I’m happy the kid is OK.”
The penalty was out of character for the “pit bull,” even if he is among the team’s penalty leaders. The call was just the second five-minute major of his college career and his first misconduct.
Offensively, Sturtz shares the team lead with Nate Sucese in goals with 11, and he also tops the team with his 19 assists. His 30 points is tied for sixth in Division I.
“I try to lead in more of an emotional way, rather than just being on the ice,” Sturtz said. “Just me being in the locker room and stuff was tough, but I think our leadership is more than just me.”
The infraction marked the second straight weekend a Nittany Lion was given a first-period ejection, with defenseman Trevor Hamilton tossed the previous Saturday against Wisconsin.
“I hate watching hockey, especially my team,” Hamilton said. “I always want to be out there doing something for the better of the team. Obviously things didn’t work out for us the last two weekends, but I think we learned from that.”
The No. 12 Nittany Lions are hoping to have Kevin Kerr back in the lineup when they visit No. 20 Michigan on Friday and Saturday.
With five goals and 27 assists his first two seasons, the junior is one of the team’s top two-way defensemen. He has only played in four games this year, with two games on the season’s opening weekend and two against Michigan State in late November.
“We are practicing with optimism in mind that we will see him in Ann Arbor — which is fantastic,” Gadowsky said, adding Kerr was not yet a certainty for the games.
Slow on the draw
Penn State led the nation last season in faceoffs at 54.9 percent, and has been among the best for most of its time as a Division I program. This year has been a struggle, however, at 49.2 percent, which ties for 40th out of 60 teams.
Gadowsky has lamented many times, including after Saturday’s loss to the Buckeyes, how perplexed he is at the drop in success and even asked team captains for ideas.
“We’ve approached it the exact same way,” Gadowsky said. “It’s really difficult to figure out. That just doesn’t make sense. That’s been a real source of frustration for us.”
Three of the five main centermen returned this season, and freshman Evan Barratt is leading at 55.8 percent, yet they still struggle. Gadowsky said it’s not just about the man at the dot taking the puck drop, but also about the other four teammates playing their roles. Losing draws has a ripple effect like reducing shots taken, allowing more shots and bringing more penalties.
“If you don’t start with possession, if you’re always chasing the puck, it affects so many other aspects of your game,” Gadowsky said.
Chase Berger became the first Lion to play in 100 career games without missing a contest, hitting the mark during Friday’s 5-2 win over the Buckeyes. The junior has posted 33 goals and 49 assists in his time at Penn State.
“It’s not like he’s a perimeter player,” said Sturtz, a linemate for 52 of those games. “He goes right to the net and he battles.”