After a taxing first month, with one long trip and a busy schedule, it was a welcome break.
The Penn State men’s hockey team is heading toward the end of a full 14 days off, including a weekend with no games, and they needed it.
“It was relaxing,” senior forward Taylor Holstrom said. “It was needed. We have a lot of injuries to take care of. We can let things heal. Muscles are sore.”
After logging their first eight games, and posting a 5-1-2 record, the 36-game schedule gave the Nittany Lions last weekend off. The early stretch included a trip to Alaska for two games, which was not an easy trip on the body.
Now they feel like their batteries are recharged and ready for a trip to meet No. 4 Massachusetts-Lowell on Friday and Saturday.
“It’s nice to regroup a little bit, take a weekend off,” defenseman and team captain Patrick Koudys said, “and focus more on the development than looking ahead to the games.”
Coach Guy Gadowsky said the team was out of its usual routine last week. Practices were shorter, and not as productive as he hoped they would be. A number of injuries forced the coaches to alter some plans each day.
On Saturday, the team got together for something a little different — bowling.
On Tuesday, they returned to the ice at Pegula Ice Arena and the coaches pushed the team through a hard practice, including a lot of one-on-one and two-on-two drills and plenty of physical work.
“Today was about getting back to a high-compete level,” Gadowsky said, expecting the session to help snap the players physically and mentally back into their game-week routines.
The team has been on a roll, winning four straight, so they are hopeful the momentum is not lost, not to mention the timing and chemistry they all have been enjoying.
“You really do practice the way you play,” said goalie Matthew Skoff, who said he is approaching this week like there was a game last weekend, “whether your game is in two weeks or in a day.”
National recognition, Part I
The strong start to the season has gotten the attention of hockey people beyond central Pennsylvania. In this week’s U.S. College Hockey Online poll, the Nittany Lions earned 30 points in the national voting. They are still a long way from cracking the top 20 for the first time – No. 20 Quinnipiac has 144 points and five other schools are between the two programs — but it’s another notable marker.
“A lot of people are looking at it that way,” Gadowsky said. “I don’t think we are as a coaching staff. We’re trying to improve as much as we can this week regardless.”
Given the Nittany Lions will tangle with a River Hawks team that has won Hockey East the last two seasons and was in the 2013 Frozen Four, plenty of eyes will be watching Penn State and will rate the Nittany Lions appropriately after this weekend.
“We recognize that people around the nation are saying, ‘Yeah, they’ve had a great start, but they haven’t played a top team,’” Gadowsky said. “Well this is a top team and I think eyes will be on it to see if — a lot of people will be trying to say, ‘Oh, they weren’t really legit.’ We can’t control what they think.”
National recognition, Part II
While Penn State’s national team ranking is completely subjective, a few other Nittany Lions are rated high for the numbers they are producing.
Holstrom is leading the team, is tied for second in the Big Ten and tied for eighth in the nation in scoring, with 11 points on three goals and eight assists. His average of 1.57 points per game are tied for third nationally and leads the confernce.
“It’s cool,” Holstrom said. “I like seeing that, but by no means does that – it doesn’t matter. It’s cool, but ultimately it’s how the team is doing.”
Holstrom also is tied for seventh with his assist total, and his 1.14 assist-per-game average is second.
The senior is not alone. Casey Bailey and Eric Scheid are tied for 14th with five goals apiece, Scheid’s three game-winning goals is tied for second, Scott Conway is tied for 17th with two power play goals and Skoff is 18th in the country with his 1.97 goals-against average and tied for 17th with a .932 save percentage.
Gadowsky said Skoff will get the start again in goal Friday night.
As a team Penn State and Minnesota are tied for second in Division I, scoring 3.88 goals per game, and the defense is best in the conference and tied for 12th in the nation giving up 2.00 goals per game. The scoring margin of 1.88 is third in the country and the power play unit that is converting at 27.0 percent is tied for third in the nation.
Gadowsky did not go into details, but he said defenseman Connor Varley and forward and assistant captain David Glen are “definitely out” this weekend with injuries.
The coach also said defenseman David Thompson will play for the first time since the Alaska trip. He was cut in the abdomen by a skate, needing 18 stitches to close it up, in a game Oct. 17.