Penn State Hockey

Penn State hockey trying to shake off woes by shaking up lines

Sometimes attitudes on the ice can turn like players jumping over the boards on a shift change.

The Penn State men’s hockey team had been on an 11-game unbeaten streak, had found its game at both ends of the ice and appeared in good position for the postseason.

However, now they are on a three-game slide, the net has been hard to find offensively, and they have to shake off those blues with a trip this weekend looming at Wisconsin.

“That starts with our attitude in practice,” junior forward Chase Berger said at the team’s weekly media session Monday. “If you start thinking about the negatives and the outside stuff, we’re slipping and things like that, that’s just bad energy and I don’t think that helps anybody.”

Coach Guy Gadowsky was so disappointed in what he was seeing last weekend at Michigan he decided changes were needed to the forward lines, switching up three of the four combinations between Friday’s 4-0 loss and Saturday’s 3-2 setback. He knows there are some lines that have great chemistry — like having Nate Sucese, Brandon Biro and Denis Smirnov together — but sticking with the status quo was not an option.

“The whole idea behind it was, we were playing well, but we haven’t scored and it was a matter of a jump-start,” Gadowsky said. “It was a matter of just something to just jar us up a little bit.”

He also acknowledged the changes can be viewed as both a success and a failure. The Nittany Lions didn’t score their first goal of the weekend until the final three minutes Saturday, and they still lost. But he also thought they had more and better opportunities even if it didn’t show on the scoreboard.

Because of that, he wasn’t sure of the combinations when the Nittany Lions head to Madison, and it may take a whole week of practices to make a decision.

A shock to the system was needed after the nation’s top-scoring offense, averaging over four goals a game, was shut out for better than 117 minutes of action.

“Get some new chemistry — sometimes it gets a little stale,” Berger said. “It’s good to shake it up a little bit. Whether we stick with that or not, I’m not sure, but I think we’re just trying to see what fits right now.”

Badger challenge

The Nittany Lions will be meeting the Badgers for the second time this month, with wins in regulation and in a shootout at Pegula Ice Arena to open January. Wisconsin also has been struggling, with only four wins in its last dozen games.

However, the Badgers are riding a wave of confidence after a 5-0 win over No. 1 Notre Dame on Sunday — ending the Fighting Irish’s 16-game win streak and handing them their first Big Ten loss of the season.

Coincidentally, it is the second straight week Penn State will be visiting a team right after a major victory. Last weekend the Lions faced a Wolverines team that had just become the first team to sweep a series at Minnesota in the five seasons of Big Ten hockey.

“That’s hockey,” Gadowsky said. “It’s out of our control so it really doesn’t matter.”

Postseason chase

Even with the current slide, Penn State is still in good position for its NCAA tournament hopes. The Nittany Lions dropped from No. 12 to 16 in the PairWise Rankings. The Pairwise uses a formula that provides a strong indication of who will make the 16-team NCAA tournament field, leaving the Lions on the tournament bubble.

“We believe in them and we believe they’re going to do it again,” Gadowsky said. “I guess we can be thankful that we’re in the position. ... We’re in the conversation.”

Gordon Brunskill: 814-231-4608, @GordonCDT

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