The biggest disappointment is they have to wait more than three weeks to play again.
Not that the break and rest are not welcome.
But the Penn State men’s hockey team is feeling pretty darned good.
“Any time you go to Wisconsin and get any points on the road, you feel good about yourself,” coach Guy Gadowsky said Wednesday, in his first meeting with the local media after his team swept a two-game weekend series from the Badgers.
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Yes, Wisconsin is having a sub-par season, by any standards let alone that program’s, but the Badgers do have talent, coaching and history to battle.
However, the Nittany Lions head into their break for final exams and the holidays with a 9-4-2 record, 3-1 in the Big Ten, and will be alone in first place in the conference at least until after the calendar changes to 2015 — and who knows after that?
It seems such a far cry from one year ago, when the Nittany Lions were 3-9-1 at this same point, taking a seven-game skid into the break while trying to find their identity.
Needless to say, they have their identity now, but they are not going to relax — metaphorically, at least.
“If we don’t keep that up, keep improving,” Gadowsky said, “then the results are going to go the other way. The focus is just on our performance.”
Gadowsky has been uttering nearly every week that he is concerned about the process and growth this season, and wins and losses are secondary, but it’s hard not to notice what they have at this point.
The Nittany Lions just missed cracking the national polls for the first time Monday. The U.S. College Hockey Online weekly top-20 list essentially has Penn State 21st, the first team off the list and 10 voting points away from No. 20 Union.
Still, it is the goals and benchmarks that show the progress to Gadowsky.
“I hope that has more to do with the performances than the results we have,” he said. “Obviously, the record is exceptional for us for what we thought right now. I do believe that we’ve played some very strong games that have actually catapulted us into other good performances.”
The Nittany Lions’ next game is against another team that is having a surprisingly strong season and has already cracked that top 20. Penn State faces No. 17 Robert Morris (10-1-3) in the Three Rivers Classic at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on Dec. 29.
While there is worry the three-week break could cool the Lions, there is little doubt a lot of team members are aching for the time off — literally.
Already with a handful of players sidelined, defenseman Luke Juha was injured during Friday’s 5-2 win against the Badgers and didn’t play in Saturday’s 4-2 win.
Meanwhile, the team’s leading scorer, Taylor Holstrom, didn’t even make the trip to Madison for undisclosed reasons, and fellow forward Eric Scheid also is dinged up. Penn State traveled to Madison with just 19 skaters — just one extra substitute for the weekend along with two backup goalies.
Gadowsky was hopeful they all would be 100 percent by the time the team leaves for Pittsburgh.
Also, freshman forward Scott Conway had his knee cleaned up and was on crutches Wednesday, and he is a “maybe” for Pittsburgh.
“Other than health, we don’t have a lot to complain about,” Gadowsky said.
Where are you guys?
The Nittany Lions would love to play a home game again. They haven’t had a game at the corner of University Drive and Curtin Road since Oct. 31. They still have to wait another month, until Ohio State visits on Oct. 9.
“You can hear the guys talking about it too,” Gadowsky said. “We really love playing here. Our student body is just so much fun.”
However, it should be pointed out the Nittany Lions have amassed this strong start to the season even with all these road games. Their last seven have all been out of state. After the new year, only seven road games remain in the regular season.
In the Garden
The Nittany Lions got to experience the thrill of playing in New York’s historic Madison Square Garden a few weeks ago, losing to Cornell there on Nov. 29, and they already know they will be back there next season. Penn State will meet Michigan in a basketball-hockey doubleheader in The Garden on Jan. 30, 2016.
Gadowsky said he was not involved in the development, part of a grand four-year plan by the Big Ten, and Penn State will be surrendering a home game. But he and men’s basketball coach Patrick Chambers know it is worth the sacrifice.
“I just think it’s a great opportunity to play at Madison Square Garden again. I think it’s really cool that we get to team up with Coach Chambers and go against Michigan. I like that idea. I think it’s going to be a fun, cool thing to do.”