Before the season began, Penn State hockey coach Guy Gadowsky said he had hopes of seeing defensemen jumping in on the offensive end more often.
He also was hoping to see a boost in the offense.
So far, at least offensively, the Nittany Lions are off to a good start.
Penn State is averaging 5.0 goals per game, which is tied for first in the nation in Division I, and through eight games, eight different men have had a stick involved in 15 goals. Plus, 14 players have picked up at least an assist on those scores.
Penn State (2-1) will look to take its offense out for another spin this weekend, hosting American International at 7 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday at Pegula Ice Arena.
Facing AIC has special significance for the Nittany Lion program. The Yellow Jackets were the very first opponent for Penn State as a Division I program in 2012. They first visited the old home, Greenberg Sports Pavillion, and won, then was the first team Penn State beat the next night in Wilkes-Barre.
If the first three games are an indication, the Nittany Lions should have plenty of offense for this weekend’s games.
Some credit goes to having defensemen more willing to jump in on offense.
“Guy’s been pushing the fact the fact that he wants us to get involved, get creative, especially in the offensive zone,” junior defenseman David Thompson said. “Every once in a while we have the opportunity to catch the other team sleeping, you want to take advantage of it.”
Four of the six defensemen who have played thus far have at least one point. Freshman Kevin Kerr has two assists, thanks in part to being a member of one of the power play units.
That unit, too, is having pretty good success, scoring on 6 of 9 chances.
However, Gadowsky points to the special circumstances which have helped those numbers — two 5 on 3 situations and one five-minute major.
But the downside to having defensemen contributing more on the offensive end — Thompson’s goal this year came when he was standing in front of Notre Dame goaltender Cal Petersen and slid the puck under the goalie — is that someone will have to cover that back end defensively when the blue-liners do move forward.
“When they do jump in, we (have to) make sure we don’t get caught,” Gadowsky said.
It may or may not have contributed to seven Notre Dame goals last Friday.
“It’s still early in the year,” Thompson said. “We still have a lot of things we need to tighten up and work on which, later on down the road, will solve itself, basically.”
But getting production up and down the lineup helps.
Having a variety of goal-scorers keeps opponents from keying on one of two people like David Goodwin, who has one goal and four assists so far this season.
“It’s so early in the year,” Goodwin said. “We need to be using every shift to get better. Every shift we’re out there, we can work on something, we can score, we can work on our defensive play.”
The Nittany Lions also will look to tighten up play over the whole weekend. The team was much sharper Saturday against the Fighting Irish than Friday.
But having up-and-down weekends just comes with college hockey.
“We’re going to have sloppy games in February,” Gadowsky said. “You’re never going to get to the point we’re saying, ‘Oh, good, we’re done with that.’ The game takes a life of its own.”