Guy Gadowsky is hoping his Nittany Lions got it out of their system early.
The Penn State men’s hockey team won its season opener 4-2 against No. 16 St. Lawrence last Thursday, and the coach and his staff purposely did not say much either after the win or the next day.
It was a time for observation, not for talking.
They observed the team come out incredibly flat for the first five minutes Friday night, getting outshot, outworked and outplayed, and fall behind 3-0.
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“It’s something that we expected to happen at one time,” Gadowsky said. “But now that it’s happened, like I hope we don’t see it more. I hope this was a really good learning experience.”
With a dozen newcomers on a roster of 27, there are bound to be a few learning experiences, and some will go better than others.
As they head into their first road game of the season, facing Mercyhurst at 7 p.m. Friday at Erie Insurance Arena, another learning experience is on tap as the coaches continue to see what’s inside their team.
Gadowsky said he and his staff do not want to be pumping up the team each night, cheering them on, stoking their fires. He wants them to learn, and it’s all about becoming a professional. It has to be a part of the team, both in each individual and especially with the captains and leadership structure.
“As a staff it’s up to us to make sure that the team is prepared,” Gadowsky said. “But we’re transferring that responsibility to the culture of the team.”
In that sense, Gadowsky liked what he saw later Friday night. After falling behind early, they battled back, taking more than double the number of shots as the Saints in the final 55 minutes, and matched the Saints in goals. But that early deficit resulted in a 6-3 loss.
“You’ve got to learn from it. It’s going to happen,” senior forward Dylan Richard said. “We have a fairly young team. It will happen. We understand that. But we have to learn from it and we have to learn quickly. We have to figure out that we can’t just show up and you’re going to win every game.”
There are a few things in their favor that most other college athletic programs do not always benefit from that will help speed the transition. In hockey, nearly all players take part in at least a season, if not two or three, in juniors before enrolling in college.
They get in 60-plus games in a season, traveling on long road trips and honing their skills. In a sense, it takes care of redshirt seasons that a number of other sports like football and soccer may use. That means getting used to the college level of play is lessened.
Also, Gadowsky has a strong preference for players who are team captains on their junior team, so they come to Penn State with leadership experience and have a stronger internal expectation.
“Part of the culture of our program is that at the drop of the puck,” Gadowsky said, “no matter who you’re playing, we’re getting ready to work.”
The coaches cannot expect to have it all figured out in just the third game of the season, but the faster the learning the better equipped they will be once the Big Ten schedule rolls around on Dec. 1.
Friday night provides another chance to learn.
Notes: This is the first meeting as Division I programs for the Pennsylvania schools. … The Lakers are playing their season opener after facing Guelph in an exhibition game Oct. 1. … Mercyhurst plays in the Atlantic Hockey conference and was 17-15-4 last season. … If David Thompson plays, it will be the senior defenseman’s 100th career game, becoming the 10th Nittany Lion to reach that mark.
Who: Penn State (1-1) at Mercyhurst (0-0)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Erie Insurance Arena, Erie
Radio: WAPY, 103.1 FM
Leading scorers: PSU – Andrew Sturtz (2 goals, 1 assist). M – (2015-16 stats) Lester Lancaster (8 goals, 18 assists), Derek Barach (8 goals, 18 assists).