Guy Gadowsky could see it in his team when they hit the ice Saturday night.
There was no fire, and after a decisive win the previous night and two strong showings in losses the previous weekend, members of the Penn State ice hockey team were not focused on Saturday.
“It certainly can happen to young teams,” Penn State’s head coach said. “We have to address it. We have to learn from it, but it’s not altogether surprising.”
It was another one of those learning moments for the Nittany Lions, who are still feeling their way through their first season as a Division I program.
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There have been a few such nights.
There have been the highs of beating a program like Air Force, which has been a regular in the NCAA tournament, and RIT, and even the losses have had their silver linings like holding their own against a top-10 program in Union the previous weekend.
Then they skate into the Greenberg Ice Pavilion and win 8-3 over Arizona State — a club program from their old days in the ACHA that had been undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country.
They followed up the win with a 3-1 loss to the Sun Devils.
“It’s always a disappointment to lose to a team that everyone expected you to beat,” junior defenseman Nate Jensen said. “We’ve got to look within ourselves and figure out what we need to change.”
Much like losing 3-0 to Buffalo State early in the season the night before the win over RIT, there was a lesson about how to take every opponent seriously.
“Not to use this word, but it’s the professionalism aspect,” Gadowsky said. “There’s going to be a lot of players that come to the Big Ten because they want to play college hockey, but they want a chance to play in the NHL and professionally. If that’s your attitude then you better learn to play in games like that. It’s a great mental check and I’d like to say we learned it, but we won’t know until the next time we have that situation.”
One thing Gadowsky did to help his team after the bad loss was to give everyone some time away – Tuesday was the first day he had seem any of his players since Saturday night and their first practice since then is today.
Looking at next year
The Nittany Lions announced a few days ago their recruiting class for next fall, and Gadowsky gave his thoughts on the incoming group Tuesday.
- Eamon McAdam (6-foot-2, 185 pounds, goalie, Perkasie): The product of the Philadelphia suburbs, who plays for Waterloo in the USHL, is the highest-rated goalie from that league in the NHL Central Scouting North America preliminary rankings. He also has spent time with the U.S. Junior Select team, and will follow his sister, Sarah, to Penn State.
“You’ll see similarities between him and (Matt) Skoff in terms of their stature and the way they play,” Gadowsky said. “To add another excellent goaltender to the mix is a great thing for us.”
- David Thompson (6-2, 200, defenseman, Glen Mills): Another product from the Philadelphia suburbs who is the team captain of his team in Chilliwack, British Columbia, he leads that team’s defensemen in goals and points.
“Here’s a guy, an American kid, to go up to British Columbia and be a captain of an excellent team, I think that alone says a lot about the character of this kid,” Gadowsky said. “I love his attention to defensive positioning. He’s a tough guy to play against.”
David Goodwin (5-10, 179, forward, St. Louis): He had been team captain for his USHL team in Sioux City, but was recently traded to Cedar Rapids. He had been teammates with Skoff while at Sioux City.
“He’s got a very high offensive IQ,” Gadowsky said. “People will enjoy watching him. When he’s on he’s incredibly productive. He’s not the biggest guy but he thinks the game extremely well.”
- Eric Scheid (5-9, 163, forward, Blain, Minn.): He started his college career at Alaska-Anchorage of the WCHA last season, where he was tied for fourth on the team with 15 points, but this year is with Lincoln of the USHL.
“He’s got good offensive IQ, but he’s a burner,” Gadowsky said. “He’s got tons of speed, he’s gritty, he likes to play at both ends of the ice, so he’s a guy that should put up numbers but he’ll also add to our identity.”
- Zach Saar (6-4, 210, forward, Plainwell, Mich.): He is now a teammate of Goodwin after the trade to Des Moines, where Saar is the team captain. He skated in the USHL/NHL Top Prospects game earlier this year, and is also the son for former Nittany Lion football player Brad Saar.
“He’s got skill for a big man, but he doesn’t mind dropping the gloves,” Gadowsky said. “He loves to go to the net. He’s that kind of guy.”
Planning the coming weeks are tricky for hockey coaches — and coaches of any winter sport — and the Nittany Lions have a few challenges ahead.
The team travels to Holy Cross for a pair of weekend games starting Friday, then return to the ice next Tuesday at Division III Fredonia State in a game that had been postponed by Hurricane Sandy in late October. After hosting Robert Morris on Dec. 15, they are off for nearly two weeks, with final exams and a few days away for Christmas, before meeting the Colonials again at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center on Dec. 28.
Keeping up their conditioning, with only voluntary work during finals week, will be another one of those life lessons the coaches will be watching.
“It’s going to come down to doing stuff on our own,” said sophomore forward Taylor Holstrom. “When you’re home, you’re going to have to do stuff on your own, and when you get back on campus you’re going to have to be prepared and get right back on the grind.”