Penn State Hockey

Penn State Hockey: Nittany Lions focusing on themselves as season opens against UConn

A new men’s hockey season starts Friday night, with Penn State meeting Connecticut at 7 p.m. at Pegula Ice Arena.

Yet Nittany Lions coach Guy Gadowsky has not seen any film of the Huskies, has not gotten a scouting report – and doesn’t care to.

He has other worries.

“We still have so much of us that we’re not going to waste any time — not waste any time, but that’s what’s really important to us,” Gadowsky said. “We were even asked if we want tape. We do not. We’re focusing on us solely.”

The teams also will meet at 3 p.m. Saturday.

The coaches have had less than a week to work with the team members, and for this weekend it will be about how the Nittany Lions follow their script, and not what they have to do to beat UConn.

The Nittany Lions begin their third season of Division I hockey with a lot less fanfare than the last two years, and they are just fine with being able to focus squarely on the game — especially their own — instead of all the ancillary aspects of the previous two ventures.

“It was really fun, a great experience to be a part of, I’m really grateful that all of us had that experience,” Gadowsky said of being a part of the opening of Pegula Ice Arena last season. “To certainly stay in the present, to be where you’re at, is something this program tries to do, it has been easier. Every day was exciting last year, we’re more excited to be focused on the present.”

The feeling is also felt by the players, who will still be excited to get onto the ice and start the season, but have had fewer distractions in the preparation.

“As a hockey player you have to go with whichever is next,” said junior Matthew Skoff, who will start in goal Friday. “Whatever game is next is most important, and right now Oct. 10 is the start of our season. We’re not looking past that. We’re not looking at Saturday, we’re looking at Friday right now.”

Part of the process is trying to pick up where they left off in March.

Gadowsky does not expect his team to be playing at the level they played at the end of last season — when the Nittany Lions toppled Michigan in double overtime and were barely edged by Wisconsin in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament — but he also thinks the team is well ahead of their position in October of 2013.

A major reason for that is the makeup of the roster.

Every single Nittany Lion who scored a goal returns. Only one player graduated and there are three freshmen.

There is plenty of comfort on the ice for Penn State.

“Only losing one guy last year, obviously we’ll be a lot more comfortable with each other,” Skoff said. “The lines that we have right now I think are pretty good. I don’t think there will be as much confusion as there was last year because we had a class of like 10 kids come in (as freshmen). We only have a class of three so more people are on the same page.”

Even with that comfort, they still are focusing on just themselves this weekend and not worrying about what the Huskies will do.

UConn lost its top three scorers from last season with no double-digit goal-scorers returning, saw 11 players depart and 11 freshmen join the roster, has a second-year coach in Mike Cavanaugh and has jumped conferences from the Atlantic Hockey Association to Hockey East.

Even with few worries about the Huskies on Friday, and a more established foundation for the Penn State program, the Nittany Lions know there will be more expectations to produce wins this season, both now and when the conference season rolls around.

Gadowsky stressed during the team’s preseason media day they are still worried about the process and growth, and not about wins and losses, but the expectations are evolving.

“We’re going to demand more of what we can control,” Gadowsky said. “I still don’t think we’re at a point where, we look at this and we have a pretty good idea, we need to get this many points this weekend and this is what we can expect.

“The honeymoon period is definitely over in terms of we definitely feel accountability to perform. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the end result is going to mean wins against who we happen to play with in the Big Ten.”