Sometimes, finding scoring is the easy part for hockey teams.
Convincing a goal-scorer how important it is to play hard on defense can be another story.
There was no question Scott Conway had the offensive resume when he enrolled last summer at Penn State.
But coach Guy Gadowsky has wanted more out of his freshman forward, and each game Conway is becoming more effective.
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“I feel like I’m coming a long way,” said Conway, who has five goals this season. “I’ve still got a long way to go too.”
He is fifth on the team in scoring as the Nittany Lions prepare for their final non-conference game of the season, meeting No. 14 Vermont in the Philadelphia College Hockey Faceoff at Wells Fargo Center at 1 p.m. Saturday.
But the freshman also has committed the occasional turnover, and he’s finding out how important it is to backcheck and play solid defense.
While Gadowsky and his coaching staff can teach and stress the importance of those facets of the game, they get plenty of help.
“You’re more held accountable by the locker room than by the coaches,” Gadowsky said. “Once it becomes the only thing that’s accepted, then you’re getting somewhere.”
The prime example comes from right across the locker room with the top-scoring line of Casey Bailey, David Goodwin and Taylor Holstrom. They get loads of attention for their scoring — all three are among the nation’s top scorers — but part of the reason they thrive is for what they do away from the puck.
Gadowsky has pointed out in the past when Bailey plays better in other areas, he scores more goals.
“Those players, Holstrom and Bailey specifically, have increased, really improved their level, just their overall play (over) 200 feet (of ice) and it’s improved their offense,” Gadowsky said in comparing them to Conway. “I think he’s going to follow the same path. He’s working really hard at it.”
The Nittany Lions have certainly been seeing more offensive production from the No. 2 line of Conway, Eric Scheid and Dylan Richard. Scheid is fourth on the team in scoring, and Richard is seventh.
They were teamed together early in the season, but injuries broke them up for a while. They have been together again after the calendar turned, and the comfort level has returned.
“I kind of lost a little bit of groove,” Conway said of changing linemates. “Scheid and (Curtis) Loik play a little bit different style of game, stuff like that. I was trying to adjust to where Loik would be and where Scheid is now.”
Conway and Scheid have been showing their ability to connect lately. In last Saturday’s game, Conway won a battle of the puck in the neutral zone and slipped the puck between a pair of Northern Michigan players to Scheid, who broke in alone on the Wildcat goalie for a score.
For Scheid, it was his 12th goal of the season, which is second on the team. It gave Conway his 10th assist, which is tied for fourth for the Nittany Lions. Together, the line had six goals and eight assists against Northern Michigan.
Conway arrived at Penn State with a definite ability to rack up points. Last season, he was tied for second in the USHL in goals and fourth in points while helping the Indiana Ice to the league title.
This, despite not exactly having the typical background for a hockey player.
He was born and grew up in Great Britain, moving to the U.S. when he was 13 — to Florida. The son of a former professional player, with an uncle, Fred Perlini, who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, he had plenty of good coaching to get over the obstacles of living in those regions. He played in youth leagues in Florida, then in Michigan and Texas before he got to the Indiana Ice.
He also worked hard to eliminate the British accent. While living in Florida, he and his sister had a competition who could lose theirs first. On a few words there is still a hint of an English accent, but more often there is a Midwestern twang to his speech.
He certainly has gifts on the ice with a stick and puck, and the Nittany Lions are hoping that growth continues — at both ends of the rink.
“I really think he has to look at guys like Holstrom and Bailey,” Gadowsky said. “He’s a very offensive-gifted guy, and I think everybody knows it. You look at his past history, it’s no surprise.”
If the Nittany Lions can get everyone healthy and skating together, it bodes well as they hit the final stretch of the season. After meeting the Catamounts on Saturday afternoon, just 12 games remain, all against Big Ten competition. They enter the weekend second in the conference standings, very much in the hunt for the Big Ten title.
With hopes for a possible bid to the NCAA Tournament, a win over a ranked Vermont would definitely help their postseason resume as well.