Here’s the not-so-secret secret about college hockey — every game matters.
From a non-conference season opener to a highly anticipated midseason matchup against a rival and even the final weekend of the season (months from now), they all matter.
So, as Penn State prepares to open its season with a two-game home series against Sacred Heart at Pegula Ice Arena it’s easy to find motivation.
“The reality is that a win on Oct. 11 is just as important as one at the end of March in terms of getting into the tournament,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “That’s a lesson we’ve been looking at and trying to learn from.”
Last season a couple of costly losses — OK, maybe just one — prevented the Nittany Lions from qualifying for the 16-team NCAA Tournament. Specifically, everyone remembers an early November overtime loss to a non-conference opponent at home.
“If not for the Arizona State game, we’d have been in the tournament,” defenseman Cole Hults said. With an experienced and talented group returning, he believes they have ample room for optimism. “We’ve been close, but this year I think we can really do something special.”
Gadowsky and the team see the offseason as only a brief interruption in their progress. Penn State was playing well at the end of last season, and with the nation’s highest-scoring offensive line returning as well as several top offensive players back at full health, the crowd-pleasing, offensive-minded approach should be on display again this weekend.
Defense remains a concern, though — just like last season — and the team’s exhibition opener did little to diminish those concerns. Despite recording a shutout there were some lapses.
Finding a way to improve the defense without diminishing the high-powered offense will be the team’s challenge throughout the season. That’s no secret, either.
“It’s not like the offense goes off and now the defense takes the field. Hockey is a game of transition,” Gadowsky said. “We have goals for ourselves in terms of our defensive play. We’ve made some philosophical and systematic tweaks. We’re excited to see if it turns into goals-against results.”
No. 13 Penn State vs. Sacred Heart (0-0-1)
Weekend Series: 7 p.m. Friday, 4:30 p.m. Saturday
Radio/TV: Both games on 103.1 FM, GoPSUsports.com
Notable: Penn State leads the all-time series, 4-0. … Sacred Heart opened its season Oct. 5 with a 3-3 tie against UConn. … Sacred Heart junior forward Matt Tugnutt, whose hat trick accounted for all of his team’s goals in the opener, is the son of 16-year NHL veteran Ron Tugnutt (and mom Lisa). … Penn State is 4-2-1 in home openers, and has won three in a row.