Penn State Hockey

Penn State hockey team looking to get back to basics

Penn State's Denis Smirnov has 29 points this season on 11 goals and 18 assists to lead the No. 10 Nittany Lions into this weekend’s series at No. 17 Wisconsin.
Penn State's Denis Smirnov has 29 points this season on 11 goals and 18 assists to lead the No. 10 Nittany Lions into this weekend’s series at No. 17 Wisconsin.

The mantra implored upon the Philadelphia 76ers and their fans over the last few years, as the team was mired in misery, was “Trust the process.”

For the Penn State men’s hockey team, coach Guy Gadowsky and his staff recently have had to use their own version, “Trust the system.”

The last few weeks, Gadowsky has noticed his team straying from the system at times, pressing when they fall behind, trying to do too much individually.

“The team is confident in the game that we can play,” Gadowsky said. “But it’s not easy. We play – it’s a tough game to play. It’s a very fast, high-tempo game that you can’t take time off.”

The Nittany Lions spend 60 minutes each game flying down the ice on skates, peppering the opposing netminder with shots and defensively employing a one-and-done philosophy, limiting possession time with shot blocking and backchecking to force turnovers.

It’s not easy, but it has essentially been their style since the second year of the program at the Division I level, when they moved into their new home at Pegula Ice Arena. Having a rabid fan base there helps feed the style, keeping players pumped all night.

It worked brilliantly for most of the season, until the team embarked on its current five-game winless streak, a skid the No. 10 Nittany Lions will try to end when they visit No. 17 Wisconsin at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Kohl Center.

When the team fell behind in series against Ohio State and Minnesota, the system that should have stayed in place for the Lions broke down.

“To play the way we play, you have to be flying,” Gadowsky said. “I understand how tough it is to do that consistently for 34 games, but that’s our challenge.”

Trusting the system means maintaining the philosophy no matter the score. During the team’s earlier 13-game unbeaten streak, Penn State almost always was the first team to score, sometimes a couple goals, before an opponent knew what happened.

But trailing 1-0 after the first period shook their confidence — they felt something was wrong at both ends of the ice.

“It’s a matter of everybody being on the same page, playing our game for a consistent 60 minutes,” said assistant captain Ricky DeRosa, who took some of the blame along with his fellow team captains.

It was up to them to have the team settled this past week in practices, and this weekend in Madison.

“Where we’re at now is an indication we have to get back to basics here,” DeRosa said. “That’s what we’re doing.”

They have to start the turnaround against one of the nation’s hottest team. The Badgers had been rather miserable the last two seasons, but are cooking with five straight wins and victories in seven of their last eight. Leading the way is sophomore Luke Kunin, whose 17 goals ranks second in the Big Ten even after missing a few games while leading the U.S. to a gold medal at the World Junior Championships.

With all of the Badgers’ talent — there are eight NHL draft picks on the roster while Penn State boasts just two — it is even more important not to panic if there is an early deficit.

Thr Nittany Lions just have to keep trusting the system.

“We believe our game is successful when it’s 0-0, a game that can be successful when we’re up, a game that can be successful when we’re down,” Gadowsky said. “It’s not to change at all.”

Gordon Brunskill: 814-231-4608, @GordonCDT

Men’s hockey

Who: No. 10 Penn State (16-5-2, 5-4-1 BIg Ten) at No. 17 Wisconsin (15-8-1, 8-2)

Where: Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday

Radio: WAPY 103.1

Leading scorers: PSU—Denis Smirnov (11 goals, 18 assists), Chase Berger (10 G, 5 A), David Goodwin (4 G, 19 A), Andrew Sturtz (17 G, 6 A). Wisconsin—Luke Kunin (17 G, 9 A), Trent Frederic (10 G, 15 A), Grant Besse (8 G, 15 A), Cameron Hughes (6 G, 17 A).