Penn State Hockey

Penn State hockey trying to stay fresh ahead of late-season tilt with Michigan State

Penn State’s Alex Limoges skates down the ice with the puck ahead of American International College’s Joel Kocur during the Oct. 19, 2017 game at Pegula Ice Arena.
Penn State’s Alex Limoges skates down the ice with the puck ahead of American International College’s Joel Kocur during the Oct. 19, 2017 game at Pegula Ice Arena. Centre Daily Times, file

It’s that time of the season when sophomore forward Alex Limoges hopes to get more for less — specifically more productivity with a little less on-ice practice time — as a long regular season moves into its final few weeks for the Penn State men’s hockey team.

Limoges, the team leader with 16 goals, is not alone. Finding the right balance of mental and physical preparation means as much as scheming to stop an opponent’s top line at this point of the season.

“We don’t change anything systematically, but certainly there’s a big change at this time of year with what Cam Davidson does and with the duration of our practices,” coach Guy Gadowsky said, referring to the team’s assistant director of performance enhancement. “We are very aware of that.”

Davidson, who’s been with the hockey team for six years, works with the coaches to get the desired amount of preparation without draining the players. Challenging, efficient and likely shorter practices are the key.

Penn State had an off-week before its recent home sweep against Minnesota, and that extended rest played a big role in how the players felt and performed. Individually, players complement what the team does with their own routines — ice baths, managing the amount of time they spend on their feet and, for Limoges, stretching. A lot of stretching.

“Some guys do different things, but stretching helps me stay loose,” Limoges said. “My legs were really fresh for Minnesota. It felt good.”

Penn State does not have the luxury of an off-week going forward. Six games remain and two of the three series, including this week at Michigan State, will be on the road. Penn State has a 5-6-1 record at MSU.

Penn State leaped to fourth in the Big Ten standings with the Minnesota sweep. If it could hold or improve upon that spot, it will host a quarterfinal series in the conference playoffs.

Still, after losing five of six games in early January, the Nittany Lions know not to look ahead — or back at their recent sweep.

“I think the team is pretty hungry and we’ve been smacked in the face more than one time when it comes to defensive play,” Gadoswsky said. “I don’t get the sense that the team is content that ‘Oh yeah, we can do it now and we’re there.’”

There’s no doubt the defense will be challenged by Michigan State. All three members of the Spartans’ top line (Patrick Khondorenko, Taro Hirose and Mitchell Lewandowski) rank among the conference’s top-six scorers.

Penn State will counter with what it hopes is a continually improved defensive mindset. “It’s not something we’ve put on one person or position,” Gadowsky said. “Our challenge is to make it a priority and not have it take away from any other aspect of our game.”

Four Penn State players (Evan Barratt, Limoges, Brandon Biro and Liam Folkes) rank among the conference’s top-10 scorers, and the team continues to lead the nation with an average of 4.7 goals per game.

No. 17 Penn State (16-10-2, 8-9-1 Big Ten) at Michigan State (10-15-5, 6-10-4 Big Ten)

Weekend Series: 7 p.m. Friday; 7 p.m. Saturday

Radio/TV: Both games on 103.1 FM and GoPSUsports.com

Notable: The teams split their first series of the season Jan. 11-12 at Pegula Ice Arena. … Penn State is unbeaten this season (8-0-1) when forward Brandon Biro scores a goal. … Penn State is 10-2-0 when scoring first and 13-2-1 when leading after two periods.

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