Putting the nail in the coffin, as the frequently-used cliché goes, is an important ability in sports.
Locking up wins, to not let an opponent come back to tie or win, separates the good from the great. It can add several more wins to the season, and maybe make the difference between being a mere contender and a postseason qualifier.
A couple more wins last season could have put the Penn State men’s hockey team into the NCAA tournament for the first time. The past couple seasons saw a Nittany Lion lead disappear in the final minutes several times.
“We’ve had a lot of experiences in the past few years that have reminded us that you have to play 60 minutes,” coach Guy Gadowsky said Monday afternoon at his weekly session with the media. “That was maybe a little bit of an Achilles heel for us in the past, and we still have guys in the locker room, obviously the upperclassmen, who remember that.”
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Breaking out another cliché with the concept, it’s easier said than done.
“It’s a culture issue,” Gadowsky said. “It’s one of those things you think, ‘What’s the big deal? You just talk about it and you’ve got it.’ It’s not that, it’s really not that. It’s a lot harder to execute than it is to talk about.”
The Nittany Lions (5-1-1) have been putting teams away in the early part of this season, unbeaten over their last five games.
Gadowsky, whose team hosts Niagara at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday at Pegula Ice Arena, has been trying to build that culture with players who were on successful teams at the junior or other lower levels. If they know how to win, how to go deep into the playoffs, then they know how to keep the foot on the gas at the college level.
Gadowsky said simulating the situation in practice is impossible. They have to experience it in games to understand how to finish off wins.
“Having more talented players helps,” junior forward James Robinson said. “But that’s just a mental thing. … Going into the third period is knowing you’re going to be able to close them out is a mental thing. It gets contagious. It gets spread throughout the room very quick.”
Rising up the charts
Penn State is ranked in both major national polls for the first time this season, up to No. 14 in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll and No. 15 in the USA Today-USA Hockey Magazine poll.
Shoot again and again
Penn State has risen to No. 1 in the nation in shots per game again, buoyed by 65 attempts against Canisius on Friday. The Nittany Lions average 43.6 per game.
It’s nothing new for the program, which has been at or near the top of the nation in the statistic the past four seasons.
“We had guys that loved shooting the puck,” Gadowsky said. “We still have guys that love to shoot the puck.”
Nittany Lions get Funkey
Gadowsky said Monday sophomore goalie Chris Funkey will get his first career start Thursday, and freshman Peyton Jones will be in net Friday.
Funkey has played one game in relief this season, against St. Lawrence, allowing one goal while making 15 saves over 54 minutes. He appeared in four games, all in relief, last season.
Always be ready
One of the prettiest goals in Saturday’s 4-2 win against Canisius was a no-look feed from David Goodwin, as the senior skated across the front of the crease, back to Chase Berger. The sophomore easily flipped the puck into a wide-open net as Golden Griffin goalie Charles Williams was watching Goodwin.
“You just kind of know that you’re going to get a pass,” Berger said. “I saw him see me with the corner of his eye when he was coming across, so I knew he was going to pass it. He’s unbelievable. I think all three of my goals have been wide open nets from him.”
Gadowsky said his team has a few injury issues, but didn’t give names, details or rule anyone out for this week’s games.
“I haven’t been told anything definitive,” Gadowsky said. “I don’t want to lie to you, and I don’t want to tell you something that’s — there’s a couple guys that we’re watching. We don’t know yet if they will or will not be out for sure.”