Moral victories are over, the Penn State men’s hockey team is now expecting wins — at least this weekend.
Head coach Guy Gadowsky admitted as much Wednesday, as his team was preparing for a pair of games at Michigan State.
“The answer is yes,” Gadowsky said. “I wish that wasn’t the case, but I’m not going to lie about it.”
Gadowsky has skirted the issue in the past, talking about building a program, working on fundamentals and honing the team’s style of play.
After playing well in losses to No. 1 Minnesota earlier in the week, and visiting a Spartans team (6-10-3, 0-2-2) that is playing below its normal standard, the Nittany Lions (4-12-1, 0-4) are raising expectations.
“From a coaching standpoint, because we have been playing very well, yes there’s a little more pressure,” Gadowsky said, later amending the statement that it is not necessarily pressure on the team. “There’s a greater expectation of results on the scoreboard, not just performance.”
It has been pretty typical for Gadowsky to brush aside talk about wins and losses this season, knowing wins would be hard to come by on a schedule riddled with top-20 teams. Friday marks just the second game against an unranked team since Nov. 8. He also said he and his staff still are not talking about any kind of pressure to win with his team, but they know what is possible this weekend.
“It is a process,” Gadowsky said. “You have to build a foundation, you have to build a culture, you have to learn how to play your game, get an identity, you have to learn how to do that consistently, and then you have to learn how to win. If we’re jumping ahead a little bit because of our recent results or performances, and really have that expectation, I think that’s a good thing.”
“We just have to focus on doing what we need to do,” junior defenseman Patrick Koudys said. “If we play our game, the best will happen for us.”
The Nittany Lions will be looking for another piece of history to put in the second-year program’s scrap book: The first official Big Ten win.
Penn State earned victories against Ohio State and Wisconsin last season in addition to beating the Spartans, but with this season the first for Big Ten hockey as a conference, they are hoping they do not have to wait much longer for another historical marker.
“We want it,” sophomore forward Kenny Brooks said. “We were even going after it this weekend. Even though they were the No. 1 team in the nation, we were still trying to get that Big Ten win.”
The Spartans did not get off to the best of starts to the season, opening with seven losses in the first 10 games, but have been better over the last month. They have shootout wins over the Gophers and Buckeyes as well as a 3-0 shutout of No. 13 Michigan in an outdoor game played at Comerica Park, the home of baseball’s Detroit Tigers.
“Now they seem to be a lot more comfortable with what their game is,” Gadowsky said. “When you watch them on tape, they seem to do things a lot more consistently. I think they have a little more of a swagger to them, a little more confidence in what they do.”
The Nittany Lions also know how to win at historic Munn Ice Arena.
After dropping the opener of the weekend series there last season, Penn State rallied for a 3-2 win the next night, with Taylor Holstrom netting the game-winner.
While a number of faces have changed on both sides, with a bunch of new Nittany Lions making their first trip to East Lansing, and both teams are playing better hockey than at this point last season, it’s still a good feeling knowing the building will not be intimidating.
“It’ll help us,” Brooks said. “We’ve made new additions to our team this year, we feel we’ve made a lot of progress this year, not only since the start of this year but from last year and I think it’ll help us out, give us confidence. We know we can win there. We know we can win any game, but winning there will help us.”
Notes: The game is just Penn State’s sixth true road contest this season, despite having already played more than half its schedule. ... The Spartans have a number of children of former NHL standouts, including Dean and Jake Chelios (sons of Chris Chelios), Brock Krygier (son of Todd Krygier) and David Bondra (son of Peter Bondra). ... Penn State will play its final non-Big Ten game of the season next weekend, hosting No. 4 Boston College on Jan. 25.