Penn State men’s hockey coach Guy Gadowsky, and most of his players, have uttered the phrase, “We have to play Penn State hockey” dozens, maybe even hundreds, of times over the years.
The definition of that statement is rather to put into words, other than to say: Watch Andrew Sturtz play.
The 5-foot-8, 185-pound bulldog rampages around the ice, mixing it up around the net and throwing his body into opponents along the boards like few other Nittany Lions.
That is how he has scored 42 goals in his two-plus seasons, three goals away from the program’s career record, and if the junior is having a good night, then the No. 11 Nittany Lions likely are too.
“When he’s ‘Sturtzy,’ the whole team seems to gain 20 pounds,” Gadowsky said Tuesday. “When he gets going, it seems the team gets going.”
“Sturtzy” has the chance to match or break Casey Bailey’s program mark this week when Penn State (2-2) hosts American International (0-4-1) at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday at Pegula Ice Arena. Adding to the home opener’s festivities will be the team raising banners to the arena rafters for their Big Ten tournament title and NCAA berth.
The junior had a major role in last season’s success, leading the team with 22 goals. He’s got a few moves that stand out, especially his patient toe-drag that frequently is lethal to opponents. Mostly, however, his game is about doing the “dirty work.” The style is what impresses sophomore Denis Smirnov, whose incredibly creative, speedy style is a major contrast to Sturtz.
“Andrew’s passion for the game — how hard he works,” said Smirnov, who had 19 goals and 28 assists last season. “Not only in the offensive zone but in the defensive zone, back-checking, being positive on the bench (and) off the ice before games. (He goes to) dirty areas no matter what, if the defenseman is 6-foot-7 or 5-foot-8, it doesn’t matter. He gets the job done.”
Sturtz has made noticeable improvements during each of his two offseasons. This past summer’s work was augmented by an invitation to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ developmental camp to watch how the pros work. He also tried to correct a potentially bad habit.
“I see the ice better this year,” Sturtz said. “Just coming through the neutral zone this summer I focused a lot on playing with my head up instead of just burying my head and going down the boards and getting blown up sometimes, and sometimes I make it through.”
His impact on the team goes beyond finding the net, digging for the puck in corners or his drive through the neutral zone. His style, his work ethic, gets the attention of the rest of the team, including the guys who have “NHL draft pick” on their biographies. Throw in much better attention this fall to little things like nutrition and sleep habits, and the impact is heightened.
“Obviously the goals he scores are extremely important, but more important than that is just, when he’s ‘him,’ it’s incredibly uplifting to the team,” Gadowsky said. “His value is way greater than the goals he scores because of how he plays to get them.”
Sturtz wasn’t thrilled with his performance during the team’s opening weekend, losing at Clarkson and beating St. Lawrence, but was a lot happier with last weekend’s two-goal, one-assist showing at Minnesota.
“I thought I caught second gear last weekend,” he said. “Hopefully I can keep amping it up and catch my legs to start the season.”
If he catches his legs and finds the next gear, Nittany Lion fans could see a little history this week, or some other time during this six-game homestand.
With or without a goal, there is little doubt Sturtz will be personifying “Penn State hockey.”
“His work ethic is so evident, so when he’s ‘Sturtzy’ ... there are no excuses,” Gadowsky said. “When he’s going out there and just sacrificing his body and bumping into people, flying over people, no one has an excuse to take it easy.”
Men’s college hockey
Who: American International (0-4-1) at No. 11 Penn State (2-2)
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday
Where: Pegula Ice Arena
TV: BTN (Thursday)
Radio: WAPY 103.1 FM
Leading scorers: PSU—Denis Smirnov (3 goals, 3 assists), Andrew Sturtz (2 G, 1 A), Erik Autio (3 A), Trevor Hamilton (3 A); AIC—Patrick Demel (3G, 2 A), Janis Jaks (2 G, 2 A), Brennan Kapcheck (1 G, 3 A)