Coaches learn more about their teams when they are losing than winning.
When you’re winning, warts are covered up and happiness makes troubles seem smaller.
But when things aren’t perfect, when there is a bump or two in the road, that’s when you find character.
Penn State men’s hockey coach Guy Gadowsky has been learning much of this over the last few weeks.
“This is an opportunity,” Gadowsky said. “Things are going against us a little bit right now, and we’ve got to figure out a way to come out of it. If we do, we’ll be that much stronger.”
When January began, the Nittany Lions possessed the nation’s best record and longest win streak, they were climbing the national polls and conversations started to involve high seedings for the NCAA tournament. By the middle of the month, they were No. 1 in the country.
Suddenly, a modest winless skid of three games, and the team is looking a little mortal, and to turn things around the No. 6 Nittany Lions have to find success in a rather difficult place: Mariucci Arena, the home of No. 7 Minnesota.
“Is it difficult, or is it a better opportunity?” Gadowsky asked. “You can look at it either way. The bigger difficulty, the bigger opportunity too. Every team goes through ups and downs.”
Like it or not, the Nittany Lions need this. They need to be uncomfortable. Most of their huge win streak was with the benefit of playing at home. There are 12 games left in the regular season, eight of them are on the road and only the final series at Michigan is not against an opponent ranked in the current top 20.
Losing a couple games, even for the best programs, is not out of the ordinary. Just during the month of January, there has been a new No. 1 team each week because of losses.
As the Nittany Lions talk about it, they are hardly fretting.
“You’ve got to have fun with it,” sophomore forward Andrew Sturtz said. “If you told us we’d be where we are right now in August, I’d say we’d be pretty happy with where we are. You know what? We’ll get back on track this week, we’ll work hard in practice and in the classroom, we’ll go to Minnesota looking to have some fun.”
Helping in the fun department has been a locker room that has remained loose and relaxed. A mix of personalities breaks the tension, and Sturtz mentioned backup goalie Chris Funkey and forwards Alec Marsh and James Robinson as the biggest hams of the bunch.
“They all keep the morale pretty high in the room,” Sturtz said. “They’re all great guys. We all rally around those guys. You wouldn’t walk in our room and know we’d lost two games in a row, that’s for sure.”
So, the concern is not about a couple losses but how to pick up points in the Big Ten standings in one of the toughest arenas to visit, not just in the conference but in the country. The Golden Gophers and Wisconsin are tied for the Big Ten lead, two points ahead of third-place Penn State.
If the Nittany Lions have goals to be a national contender, a lot still has to be proven. Getting a win — or two — in Minneapolis will be a major step in that direction. They have to find success away from home and beat another of the nation’s best teams.
Gadowsky has learned a lot about his team recently, and he is hoping they have learned a lot too.
“It’s a maturation process,” the coach said. “Something the program has to go through.”
Who: No. 6 Penn State (16-3-2) at No. 7 Minnesota (15-7-2)
Where: Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday
Radio: WAPY 103.1
TV: Big Ten Network (Saturday)
Leading scorers: PSU—Denis Smirnov (11 goals, 18 assists), Chase Berger (10 G, 13 A), David Goodwin (3 G, 18 A), Andrew Sturtz (17 G, 3 A). Minnesota—Tyler Sheehy (15 G, 18 A), Justin Kloos (12 G, 16 A), Vinni Lettieri (11 G, 12 A), Mike Szmatula (9 G, 12 A).