Just past the midpoint of the first period of Saturday’s 5-3 Penn State men’s hockey team win over American International, Eric Scheid had the puck behind the net, took a stride to his left and sent a pass the other way to Dylan Richard.
The junior, stationed a few feet to the side of the net, quickly redirected the puck into the net, perfectly executing a play the pair had practiced the last two-plus seasons.
“Me and Rocket kind of have that set up,” said Scheid, who said his father taught him the play. “It was nice to see that finally work.”
Scheid said he may try the play with someone else, but Richard is the only one he has full faith will be in the right spot at the right time.
That is the synergy of being on the same line for years, of instinctually knowing who will be where.
It’s a little tougher for the Nittany Lions to produce plays like that these days. A plethora of injuries means the team does not have four full lines, and the men on the ice have to pull double shifts.
“It’s tough when you’re short guys,” Richard said. “Everyone’s got to pull the same way, maybe take one for the team, sit one or go right back out when you’re tired. It really taxes us mentally and physically.”
For last weekend’s wins against AIC, Penn State was missing forwards David Glen, James Robinson and Zach Saar. It left only 11 healthy forwards instead of the usual 12 for four full lines.
The Nittany Lions enjoy a fast-tempo offense with plenty of shots, and they run some short shifts. Usually players are jumping over the boards every 30-40 seconds. That makes the meshing of lines even more challenging, but everyone plays their role to help out.
Coach Guy Gadowsky is adjusting. When he was recruiting for this team a few years ago, he was expecting to have a few more on the roster. Among them, last year’s top scorer, Casey Bailey, left for the NHL and another top scorer, Scott Conway, was dismissed from the team.
“You try to plan, but it never works out how you plan,” Gadowsky said. “It just never does. It could be something like a Casey Bailey or some of the other attrition, or Jonathan Milley (career-ending injury). Sometimes you just don’t know.”
Two seasons ago, the team had the injury bug among defensemen. Several games saw them use just five instead of the normal six, and even a few times they only had four healthy blue-liners. It even necessitated moving forward Kenny Brooks back to shore up the position for a number of games.
“Sometimes you’ll have an abundance of players,” Gadowsky said. “Sometimes you’ll be really short. It seems like the years you’ll be really short, that’s when the injury bug hits you. Years that you might try to plan on something happening, it doesn’t, you end up being healthy, it’s hard to keep everybody happy.”
He said it’s easier to double-shift forwards than defensemen, and the coaches have talked about moving a defenseman up but didn’t think they had the right personnel.
They are hopeful Glen can return this weekend when Penn State (5-1) hosts St. Lawrence (4-2) at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday at Pegula Ice Arena, which would alleviate the issue.
While the connections certain linemates may have stand out, like that of Scheid and Richard, there is still a style of play the whole team sticks to, and that is just as important.
“We have a system that we play and we stick to our objectives,” Scheid said. “Doesn’t matter who you’re going out with, you kind of know exactly what you’re going to get when you go out there.”
Surprisingly, Scheid is not minding the extra work. He missed the first two weeks of the season with an injury, and last weekend was his season debut. He didn’t have to pull much extra work Friday, but had more Saturday and he thought it helped sharpen him. But the first night was tough.
“It’s definitely hard,” Scheid said. “Especially when you’re just starting out, you’re not quite into the game swing yet. You’re getting into it.”
• Gadowsky said Glen is “day to day” and practiced Monday, but the coach is waiting to hear from trainer Justin Rogers whether the senior is ready to play Thursday.
• Gadowsky said Robinson is definitely out this week, but is unsure of the sophomore’s status beyond that.
• The team will continue to alternate goalies this week between Matthew Skoff and Eamon McAdam, the coach said.
• St. Lawrence moved up one spot in the USCHO.com weekly rankings to No. 16. Penn State received 35 points, third among others receiving votes in the top 20 poll.
• Nearly every one of the team’s eight freshman has made an impact in the first three weeks of the season, in one form or another. “Every single one has showed that they deserve to be here and to make a very good argument about why they should play. Those are obviously good problems to have,” Gadowsky said.