UNIVERSITY PARK — The Penn State men's ice hockey team has already faced a variety of challenges so far in their new season, but a new one has come up this week: Down time.
The Nittany Lions are off this week, with no opponent to prepare for and a weekend to maybe think about something other than hockey, like catching up on classwork.
The team has a variety of goals for the week, but head coach Guy Gadowsky had an overriding aim above the others: Get healthy.
There has been an accumulation of bumps and bruises, aches, pains and illnesses over the first five weeks, and with a fledgling program with so many young players, Gadowsky is happy to take a step back.
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"Because of our health situation, we're happy (the break) is happening right now," Gadowsky said. "We have a lot of guys out. We just want to get healthy. There's always concerns if you take a lot of time off, but right now, if you're going to have a lot of time off, this is a good time for us to have it."
Gadowsky figured on any given day this week he might only have 75 percent of his roster on the ice practicing for various reasons.
So the emphasis for the week instead is on individual work, honing specific deficiencies of each player or group, and not many team drills.
"They haven't been tough practices," Gadowsky said. "I hope we will when the whole team gets back and it's more competitive."
The only other weekend the team will have entirely off will be right before Christmas and right after final exams week.
The practices will get tougher again next week — while the rest of the student body is out on Thanksgiving break — as they prepare for quite possibly their toughest opponent of the entire season.
Penn State travels to No. 7 Union the weekend after Thanksgiving. The Dutchmen, who played in last season's Frozen Four, are the only scheduled opponent in the current national top 20 rankings.
Penn State could face No. 4 Miami (Ohio) in the Three Rivers Classic at Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center on Dec. 29, depending on who wins and loses in the first games of the tournament Dec. 28. The Lions face Robert Morris and the Red Hawks meet Ohio State, which is ranked just outside the top 20, on the first night.
Two other future opponents, Wisconsin and Michigan State, started the year in the top 20 but have since dropped out.
Gadowsky said he would not have the team preparing for Union until next week's sessions.
One of the hurting Lions is forward Jonathan Milley, who injured his hip two weeks ago. At first Gadowsky said it was a hip pointer, but on Tuesday Gadowsky said it was a bruised bone in the hip, and the issue was as much about pain as anything.
"He's not as good as we were hoping," Gadowsky said of the 6-foot-4, 220-pound freshman. "Obviously we would love to have him against Union probably as much as any other weekend. We're taking him day-by-day."
Where is Guy?
While practices continue this weekend, Gadowsky is not with the team. Instead, he said he will be somewhere in Western Canada, making recruiting visits — another goal for the off weekend.
The bulk of the recruiting trips this season have been taken by assistant coaches Keith Fisher and Matt Lindsay, who have to scour most of North America to find prospects.