It is the blatantly obvious problem plaguing the Penn State men’s ice hockey team during the early weeks of the season: penalties.
The Nittany Lions are taking too many of them, and the domino effect is a 1-3-1 record heading into Friday night’s game at Robert Morris.
Penn State was having troubles the first three games of the season, but it got really bad last weekend, taking eight penalties for 27 minutes in a 3-3 tie with Rochester Institute of Technology, then 32 more minutes on nine infractions against Vermont in a 5-2 loss.
“It’s killing us right now,” sophomore forward David Glen said. “We’re up in the leaders in the nation and it’s putting our team behind the eight-ball.”
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In fact, Penn State is sixth in the nation in penalties, averaging 22 minutes per game.
Glen has been a surprising major contributor to those totals, with two five-minute majors and two 10-minute game misconducts over the weekend. He played just a little over two total periods of action over the weekend, and the departure left head coach Guy Gadowsky shuffling his lines the rest of the night.
Glen totaled 57 minutes in penalties for all of last season, and he picked up 30 in two games and has 36 already this season.
“He is a tremendous hockey player,” Gadowsky said. “Part of the reason is because he plays so hard, and he’s so tough to play against. He doesn’t look huge, he plays huge. He’s a tough kid. He’s had so much success in his life because of that. There’s not a player that we’ve played against that I’d trade him for.”
To remedy the problem, Gadowsky has contacted the Big Ten’s director of officiating to get interpretations and guidance on how penalties are called. As an independent team last season, it was not a resource available to the Nittany Lions, but it is obvious they need some pointers.
“They weren’t malicious in intent or anything, per se,” Glen said. “But it’s something we have to work on. It is a change in hockey. We watched video on how they went. It’s just trying to learn from those experiences and move forward.”
There really wasn’t much dirty about either of Glen’s two major penalties over the weekend. Against RIT, as one teammate was checking a Tiger player and drawing an elbowing penalty, Glen led with his shoulder on another player but they also banged knees. The RIT player had to be helped from the ice and didn’t return to the game.
The next night, as he was skating one direction through the slot in front of the Penn State net, a Vermont player collided with another Nittany Lion, began to stumble and was run over by Glen, bulling into the Catamount player’s head.
“Obviously I felt responsible in a lot of ways,” Glen said. “It was kind of a tough situation. All my teammates are supportive and they know it’s a part of my game. I’m not going out there to look to head hunt or take penalties, but physicality is a part of my game and I think my teammates respect me for that.”
While those penalties were the biggest, and maybe could be set aside as circumstance, there were plenty of other penalties, and miscues that didn’t land a Nittany Lion in the box, that also have kept the team from performing well.
The most glaring was being outshot 12-1 by Vermont in the second period at Wells Fargo Center.
“We’ve spent a lot more time in the penalty box than we would have liked,” junior captain Tommy Olczyk said. “At the end of the day it’s a learning process and we don’t really have any other options other than to adjust.”
After the period Gadowsky told Comcast Television Network it was the worst period Penn State had played, and after the game Olczyk vented some frustrations to the media in Philadelphia.
“I included myself in everything I said,” Olczyk said. “We’re a team. We’re not going to single out one guy. That’s not the right way to go about things. If one guy messes up, it’s a team mistake. We’re a unit, we’re a family (and) each and every guys is accountable.”
Olczyk was among those taking notes on the conversation Gadowsky had with the officials, and he is making a point to learn from the events.
“You want to go out there with good technique,” he said. “You want to play hard, you want to hit with stick on puck, keep your hands down because a lot of the penalties we’re taking is because guys are hitting with their hands up in the air, therefore your stick’s up. When your stick’s up and you’re hitting someone, the refs are bound to call it.”
Gadowsky said he planned on switching up lines and defensive pairings some more for Friday’s game, but the biggest thing was to spend this week’s practices focusing on not taking all those penalties.
“We’ve been killing a lot of penalties,” Gadowsky said. “Not only do your penalty-killers get tired, the players that you would use in other situations get stale. I think it affects everything.”