As freezing rain and sleet fell on the Penn State campus Tuesday afternoon, Taylor Holstrom was trying to navigate the few icy feet he had to travel from Pegula Ice Arena to a teammate’s SUV on crutches.
“I’m doing all right,” the senior forward said before climbing into the vehicle.
Yes, but he has definitely been better.
Coach Guy Gadowsky said Tuesday the team will be without its leader in assists and Hobey Baker Award nominee.
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“It’s not good,” Gadowsky said. “I know he’s not playing the rest of the season, I know that.”
Holstrom suffered an injury to his right leg 4:33 into the third period of Saturday’s 5-3 loss at Ohio State when he collided knee-to-knee with the Buckeyes’ Nicholas Jones a few feet away from the Nittany Lion net. He was helped to the locker room by the training staff and did not return.
Gadowsky said the leg was not broken, but was unsure of the severity of the injury.
“It’s hard to tell with sprains,” Gadowsky said. “It’s not broken, but he can’t put weight on it. It’s not good. No, I don’t expect to see him.”
It’s a critical injury at a critical time for the Nittany Lions (16-12-4, 8-7-1 Big Ten) as they try to stay in the hunt for one of the top two seeds for the conference tournament, and one of the teams they are chasing pays a visit this weekend. Conference-leader Michigan (19-11, 11-5) will be in town for games at 7 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday in the final two home games of the season.
Penn State is eight points behind the Wolverines and five behind second-place Minnesota. With three points awarded for a win, and a road series against the Golden Gophers next weekend, the Nittany Lions can still make up ground in the standings.
They will have to do it without Holstrom, who had seven goals and 26 assists before the injury. He is tied for 35th in the nation in points and 13th for assists, and joined Casey Bailey as the team’s first two nominees for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the nation’s top college player.
“You have a guy that’s been playing so, so well,” Gadowsky said. “He meant so much to the identity to our team starting out.”
It also breaks apart the team’s most prolific line with Bailey and David Goodwin. Bailey leads the team and is tied for fifth in the nation with 21 goals while Goodwin is tied for second on the team with 13 goals. The trio had been on the same line for 28 of the Lions’ 32 games.
Gadowsky plans to slide Goodwin from left wing to center, and add senior Tommy Olczyk to the left wing on the line.
“It’s going to take a while to get the chemistry that those two had with Taylor,” Gadowsky said “But I think (Olczyk’s) style is going to fit there pretty well.”
Because of the comfort Goodwin has with the team’s top scorer, the coach is hoping the line can retain its potency.
“We want to see the guy that has the most synergy with Casey being in the middle to handle the puck the most,” Gadowsky said.
What disappointed the coach was the way the Nittany Lions played after Holstrom was lost. Penn State led the Buckeyes 3-2, but about five minutes after the injury they gave up three straight goals in the span of just over four minutes and managed just five shots the rest of the game.
“Disappointing that we crumbled after his injury, but I understand it,” Gadowsky said. “We have to get tougher than that, but I think the response you saw was pretty genuine.”
There had been an array of injuries through the season, but the Nittany Lions really cannot complain about being hit by the bug like some others in the conference. Certainly the team’s top scoring line was rarely hampered by injuries, but it is something the team will have to overcome to make a run at an NCAA Tournament bid.
“This is a fast game, it’s a combat game,” Gadowsky said. “Sometimes you can do everything right, and, like Taylor, get hurt.”
After missing him most of the season, Penn State officially announced Monday that junior forward Jonathan Milley is done for his career.
“When his body can’t go,” Gadowsky said, “you feel so bad because of the hours and hours and hours and hours he put into it. He could not have taken his rehab more seriously.”
One of the team’s biggest players, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound forward from Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, had been battling back problems since before his college career began.
After committing to Penn State, he played just five of his final 60 games for Pembroke of the Central Canada Hockey League. He managed just 33 games in blue and white, totaling six goals and seven assists, and had just one goal and one assist in four games this season, last playing Nov. 29 against Cornell.
“He put in more work just to get on the ice to practice than anybody,” Gadowsky said. “He spent more time in the training room than any athlete that I’ve ever seen.”
Milley will stay in school and finish his degree next year, and will remain with the team as a student manager or coach.
Gadowsky said the trainers made a number of attempts to get Milley back on the ice, even giving him steroid injections around the injured area. The coach said the relief only lasted for about two games.
“We exhausted everything,” Gadowsky said. “We tried everything. We certainly aren’t looking back saying, ‘Jeez, we should have done that.’ We tried everything.”
Gadowsky said Eamon McAdam will get the start in goal for Friday’s game. The sophomore has seen action in nine games, starting eight, with a 2.91 goals-against average and .913 save percentage. He last played Jan. 24 in a 5-5 tie with Northern Michigan. … Defenseman Luke Juha missed Saturday’s game and also missed practice Tuesday. … Saturday will mark Senior Day for the Nittany Lions, who will honor eight men in their final home game: Holstrom, Olczyk, P.J. Musico, Patrick Koudys, Peter Sweetland, Jacob Friedman, Nate Jensen and Max Gardiner. … There are no plans to put this weekend’s games on television. … The Nittany Lions and Wolverines split their two meetings in November in Ann Arbor, with the Lions winning 3-2 in the first game and falling 8-1 in the second contest. … Penn State is 11-2-3 at home this season, with just one loss in the last nine home games.