It’s hard to climb a ladder when you’re busy digging holes, and that’s been the challenge for the Penn State men’s hockey team as it seeks consistency this season.
For every bit of high-octane, fast-paced offense, there’s been step-behind, sluggish activity on defense. And for every two periods of steady play, there has been one with shaky effort.
Coach and players alike have diagnosed the problem as a poor defensive mentality. Still, instead of being frustrated, coach Guy Gadowsky insists he’s optimistic because he believes the problem can be fixed.
“It is very reassuring to me because we do have a good, well-defined system and the team is understanding of it. We definitely have the skills to execute it, and mentality is something that very much (is) under your control,” Gadowsky said. “That’s why we’re encouraged.”
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As an example of the defensive lapses, Gadowsky cited a Michigan State goal last Saturday. Penn State played its scheme and had players in position but somehow surrendered four shots in the same even-handed sequence. “They got the puck and we didn’t,” he said.
A little more than two weeks ago, Gadowsky was pleased because the Nittany Lions had positioned themselves for postseason play as the spring semester started. Now, entering a two-game series against No. 4 Ohio State, the No. 13 Nittany Lions need some solid start-to-finish efforts.
Captain Chase Berger said Penn State has played well in games when everyone seemed loose beforehand and in games when everyone seemed focused or quiet. Either way, consistency remains elusive. He and Gadowsky believe a better mentality boils down to personal accountability.
“What we’re trying to emphasize it that it’s on each individual,” Berger said. “I’m going to be ready to go and hopefully everyone else is going to be ready, too.”
They also agree mentality cannot be addressed or altered during a game — which means the most important variable in this weekend’s two-game series might have already happened.
“It really has to be your mentality going into the game,” Gadowsky said. “It’s really difficult to flip that switch.”
No matter the mentality, it will not be easy this weekend.
OSU’s top goalie, Tommy Nappier, has an 8-1-2 record with a 1.58 goals-against average. In conference games that average drops to 1.49 with a .950 save percentage. His backup, Sean Romeo, has a 2.45 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage.
No. 13 Penn State (13-7-2, 5-6-1 Big Ten) vs. No. 4 Ohio State (13-5-4, 6-3-3 Big Ten)
Weekend Series: 7 p.m. Friday; 3 p.m. Saturday at Pegula Ice Arena
Radio/TV: Both games on 103.1 FM, GoPSUsports.com and BTN Plus.
Notable: The teams split their first series of the season (Nov. 23-24) in Columbus, Ohio. … Ohio State sits first in the Big Ten standings with 23 points. Penn State is fourth with 17. … Ohio State is the conference’s best defensive team, allowing 2.18 goals per game. Penn State scores a conference- and national-best 4.86 goals per game.