Do not be misled by the record.
That was the message from Penn State men’s hockey coach Guy Gadowsky to his team, and to the media, this week when discussing this weekend’s opponent.
Wisconsin may be struggling, but the Badgers should not be taken lightly.
The Nittany Lions (7-4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) and the Badgers (1-8-1, 0-0) tangle at 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Kohl Center.
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“I certainly don’t expect we overlook them at all,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “They’re Wisconsin. At the same time I understand we’re facing a dangerous group that’s finally starting to get some confidence.”
In terms of records, it is not the type of performance expected out of one of college hockey’s traditional powers, especially with eight straight losses to open the season after being in the top 20 preseason poll.
However, Wisconsin has been in the midst of a transition, with nine true freshmen and two more redshirt freshmen all making their collegiate debuts this fall. Add in a schedule that has had them on the road for six of those 10 games, and the new Badgers were thrown into the deep end quickly.
“You put (11) freshmen in your lineup, it’s going to take a while,” Gadowsky said. “You can see the improvement that they’ve been making.”
The Nittany Lions have been listening to Gadowsky’s cautions, and also know they are heading into another important weekend in Big Ten action.
“We won’t look at that,” junior forward Curtis Loik said. “We’ll look at it like we took UMass (Lowell, which was ranked No. 4), like we took Michigan. That’s not going to determine how we approach the game.”
It’s also an important series for Penn State because so many players have been hurting. Forwards David Glen and Dylan Richard are expected to return after missing a few weeks, but several others will be out longer, and the Lions would like to go into a three-week break until their next game, because of final exams and the holidays, with a good feeling.
“We know that we have an opportunity to close out this half, so to speak, of this segment, in a positive manner,” Gadowsky said. “If we can get through this and have success, I think it’s going to be a tremendous boost.”
Wisconsin finally earned its first points of the season last weekend, with a 1-1 tie and 5-3 home win against Ferris State. The team still has top goalie Joel Rumpel, who has 50 career wins and nine career shutouts.
Rumpel is one of just six seniors to go with three juniors on the youthful roster that has been shut out twice and scored just one goal three times this season.
Still, Penn State would like to get another crack at the Badgers after dropping all four meetings last season, including a 7-1 loss in one of their games in the Kohl Center.
The Nittany Lions have been playing well this season, but head into the weekend in their first two-game losing streak of the campaign, falling at Michigan and against Cornell.
Still, the team is vastly improved, the offense is among the nation’s best in terms of goal-scoring, and Badgers coach Mike Eaves has taken notice.
“You look at their team last year, anybody that played them had fits with them because they were big, they could skate, they had good goaltending,” Eaves told Wisconsin media at his weekly session on Monday. “They were missing maybe the game breaker in their lineup and what’s going to happen they’re going to get a couple of those kids in there and then they’re going to be up there fighting. Their coach does a great job with them as a whole unit and having them come together and play well. They were just missing a couple of pieces and they’re just going to go out and pound the pavement and find those couple of guys that are going to be difference makers in games and then they’re going to be knocking on the door trying to win championships.”