The Penn State men’s hockey team is flying high and team members are feeling pretty good about themselves.
The Nittany Lions are on a four-game win streak — which is the best in the program’s short two-plus-year Division I history — and have made an impression on the college hockey world.
“I feel like we have the right to be pretty confident,” goalie Matthew Skoff said. “We’ve won four games in a row. That being said, there’s a reason why we’ve won these games. We didn’t just get lucky. The way we played these games, we earned it. This weekend has to be the same way.”
It would be safe to say the teams the Nittany Lions beat during the streak are not at the level of what they will see this weekend.
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Penn State (5-1-2) is heading to northeast Massachusetts for games Friday and Saturday against No. 4 UMass-Lowell (6-1-2).
The River Hawks, champions the last two seasons of Hockey East and a Frozen Four team in 2013, are certainly a step above Holy Cross and Bentley.
“We’ve had a good stretch,” said forward Taylor Holstrom, who leads Penn State with 11 points on three goals and eight assists. “We’re ready, excited to play a team of this caliber, and test ourselves and test where we’re at.”
During the win streak, the Nittany Lions have outscored opponents 16-6. They have a number of individuals among the nation’s leaders as well as team units. They are generating plenty of opportunities on the power play — 10 for 36, good for 27 percent that is tied for third in the nation.
“We’re doing well overall as a team, especially compared to last year,” captain and senior defenseman Patrick Koudys said. “We definitely want to roll with that, but … every team’s a good team and any team can win any game.”
Some of the seeds for this confident feeling were sewn last season, even as the team struggled, during one stretch losing 15 out of 16.
Coach Guy Gadowsky and his staff kept the team optimistic, focused on the future, and now they are enjoying some of the fruit of that labor.
“If you throw in the towel or get negative, you aren’t going to improve,” Gadowsky said. “It’s as simple as that. One of the things I think we’re most proud of as a coaching staff is that throughout that — it’s tough for a very new program, we were playing the Big Ten, it’s tough — I think the guys, give them full credit for staying very positive for working very hard and not throwing in the towel.”
After the good run and a week off to heal up and enjoy a little bit of the success, Penn State has a road that gets a lot tougher.
Following this weekend in their first games this season against a ranked opponent, the Big Ten season opens with the Nittany Lions visiting Michigan for two games. Then they meet Cornell at Madison Square Garden and visit Wisconsin for two contests.
Nothing is being taken for granted right now.
“That momentum thing can change so quickly anyway,” Gadowsky said. “I feel like we have so much work to do and that’s what we’re focused on and what we can control to improve on. That’s really been our main focus. It’s not like, “Oh, Jeez, sit back, we’re on a roll.”
This weekend’s series at the Paul E. Tsongas Center is a rematch of a pair of games at Pegula Ice Arena last season, both won by the River Hawks.
UMass-Lowell is off to a blazing start and is the nation’s highest-scoring team, averaging 4.22 goals per game. The power play is just a couple of places behind the Nittany Lions at 25 percent and the defense surrenders 2.44 per outing.
The Nittany Lions can only hope the momentum can continue and they didn’t lose anything by taking last weekend off.
“A lot of it has to do with the way you practice,” Skoff said. “You can’t miss a beat in practice. When you take practices off, and don’t work as hard, that’s when I feel like you miss a beat. We’re keeping each other honest in practice.”