For the nation’s top-scoring hockey team, a more-is-better mentality makes sense, and Penn State needs more than goals as the Big Ten tournament begins.
Sure, it needs goals — an offensive-minded approach is a given for the Nittany Lions who average 4.62 goals per game. But Penn State also needs a bit more defense and some good bounces.
So, when coach Guy Gadowsky looks ahead to the start of postseason play as Wisconsin visits for a best-of-three quarterfinal matchup, he’s encouraged by his team’s recent efforts and is happy to be playing at home.
He’s also certain his team needs to maintain its offensive output and enhance is defensive effort. He believes the postseason offers time for a reset, and it’s not an either/or proposition.
“This is an opportunity to start fresh and start the right way,” Gadowsky said, focusing on the team’s defense, which allows a Big Ten-high of 3.71 goals per game. He’s never wants his team to take its foot off the gas pedal offensively, though. “At the same time, we’ve been very successful so we’re not changing the message there. The answer is both. The challenge is to keep one end of the spectrum and improve the other. I’m actually looking forward to the playoffs to see if we can do that.”
That might mean a slightly more blue-collar approach for the team in the blue and white uniforms.
“I just take it as another weekend in the Big Ten,” defenseman Paul DeNaples said. “Yeah, the stakes are higher, but we’re playing the same Wisconsin team we’ve played four times already.”
For DeNaples, it’s often more of a black-and-blue approach. He’s second on the team with 72 blocks (seven behind Kris Myllari) and he knows his role, something his coach and teammates appreciate. For them, more blocks are better. And DeNaples’ team-best plus-26 speaks volumes about his productivity.
Penn State enters the tournament with more points in conference play and more victories than last season. Still, the Nittany Lions need more.
Thanks to the competitive depth of the conference, only Ohio State seems assured of a spot in the NCAA tournament at this point. Last season three Big Ten teams reached the Frozen Four.
“If you look at the games and the league, you can say, ‘Boy, we’re more successful,’ but the end goal is get to the NCAA tournament,” Gadowsky said. “I think the league is so tough that we can be proud of a lot of things. I think we can call a lot of things a success this year, but certainly what happens in the next week to month will really determine that.”
Wisconsin coach Tony Granato agrees with Gadowsky about the challenges and competitive balance of the conference. He thinks several teams struggled a bit more than expected in nonconference play, which would’ve better positioned the Big Ten for a bigger presence in the NCAA tournament.
Unlike Penn State, though, the Badgers want a little less this weekend. Not as many offensive rushes and certainly not a hectic, up-and-down-the-ice style of play.
He’s hopeful, with defenseman K’Andre Miller potentially back from an injury, that his team’s most recent efforts — two overtime victories against Michigan to improve their tournament seed — translate to this weekend.
“We feel pretty good about our last few games and feel like we’re playing some of our best hockey of the year,” said Granato, who thinks his team is better than its record indicates. The Badgers have had success against Penn State this season. Slowing the pace of play and staying out of the penalty box tops their to-do list for a potential less-is-more success.
“If we can play under control and be disciplined with lots of our different parts of our own game, we’ll have a chance,” Granato said. “Defensively and without the puck, we’re going to have to be great.”
No. 18 Penn State (19-13-2, 11-12-1 Big Ten) vs. Wisconsin (13-16-5, 9-10-5 Big Ten)
Big Ten Tournament, Quarterfinals
Series: 8 p.m. Friday, 6 p.m. Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday (if necessary)
Radio/TV: Both games on 103.1 FM and GoPSUsports.com
Notable: Wisconsin led the season series 2-1-1 as the teams averaged 9.75 goals per game. … Penn State has a 7-4-1 record vs. the Badgers at home. … Penn State boasts the Big Ten’s best power play, converting on 26.6 percent of its chances, while Wisconsin leads the Big Ten in penalty minutes (13.3 per game). … All of the conference’s best-of-three quarterfinal series last season ended in two-game sweeps.