Unlike most other sports on campus, the Penn State ice hockey team has just a handful of practices before starting the season.
In essence, the team is still in a preseason mode even after the first game.
The first official practice, thanks to NCAA rules, was Saturday.
The Nittany Lions will open their season at 7 p.m. Friday at Pegula Ice Arena, hosting Connecticut to start a two-game series. The teams meet again at 3 p.m. Saturday.
With just a few days to prepare, the coaches have to pick and choose what to focus on for the opening weekend.
“I imagine all hockey teams right now, Division I teams, we feel far behind for having to play on Friday,” coach Guy Gadowsky said during his weekly Tuesday session with the media. “We certainly haven’t addressed nearly as much as we would like. So as a coaching staff we feel a little trepidation right now because we don’t feel we’re ready.”
However, to help with the adjustment, since the start of the fall semester at the end of August, the Nittany Lions gathered in Pegula Ice Arena for “captain’s practices.”
The coaches are allowed to meet with the team members for eight hours off the ice and for two hours on the ice each week. So the coaches would cover what they wanted done, what drills to run and what parts of the game they wanted to give focus, then they would leave the ice and not be allowed to watch the rest of the practices.
The on-ice gatherings would be broken into four 30-minute sessions per week before the reins would be turned over to new team captain Patrick Koudys.
“’Dys did a really good job of getting the boys ready,” goalie Matthew Skoff said. “I think it’s going to show this weekend.”
Gadowsky said there was little depth to what they wanted for those sessions, they just wanted to touch on a lot of topics quickly. The official sessions have had a more specific focus.
“This week was more about the things we did really poorly (last season),” Gadowsky said. “Trying to address those more. That’s what we do.”
Not being able to hold weeks of practices was quite the adjustment for players who had spent years in junior leagues.
“I’m kind of used to it now,” Skoff said. “When I first came here it was really weird. As a freshman it was different for me. But now it’s something I’ve kind of taken ownership of myself. … A lot of your development here is on yourself, especially when the coaches aren’t allowed to be on the ice. You have to be honest with yourself.”
Gadowsky said there are talks of changing the schedule, and with the extra weight the Big Ten brings to NCAA discussions, there is hope the conditions improve.
“I am hoping in the future the Big Ten will be able to get out in front of that,” Gadowsky said.
While Friday marks Penn State’s first game of the season, it will be the second for UConn – unofficially.
The Huskies played an exhibition game Sunday against Dalhousie University, from Nova Scotia, Canada. UConn won 3-1.
Gadowsky said he would like to see exhibition games on future Nittany Lion schedules, even if there are no bonus practices to get ready for them. They are, essentially, glorified scrimmages.
“I’ve been a part of those in the past,” Gadowsky said. “There’s positives and negatives – mostly positives. … It’s making sure it makes sense for the program and Penn State.”
One line set
Gadowsky said Tuesday that Curtis Loik, David Glen and Kenny Brooks will be reunited on the same line again.
The trio has been together frequently over the previous two seasons, and it was practically an automatic set for the beginning of the season.
“That line seemed to automatically have synergy right from day one,” Gadowsky said. “We always toy with moving them apart and getting other things going. They always seem to gravitate together.”
Freshman Scott Conway said he has been working with Eric Scheid and Jonathan Milley, at least to start practices, but Gadowsky did not divulge any of the other lines, and also said whatever lines may be together at the start of Friday’s game may be different by the third period.
First taste for freshmen
The Nittany Lions’ three newest members are eager to hit the ice Friday.
Slipping on blue-and-white sweaters for the first time will be Conway, fellow forward James Robinson and defenseman Erik Autio.
“It’s my first game as a Nittany Lion so I’m pretty excited about that,” said Conway, who led his junior team in scoring last season. “I can’t wait to see all the fans in there too. I’m pretty excited about it.”
Gadowsky has said he expects all three to have an impact this season, and Autio and Conway have even been working with the power play units.
Still, there are some adjustments.
“The tempo of hockey’s quite a bit higher,” Robinson said. “I’m just trying to take everything in. I feel like I fit in pretty well.”