Max Gardiner does admit he wishes his name was appearing in the scoring column more often.
“I think anyone would be,” the redshirt senior forward said. “Who doesn’t like scoring goals? But we’ve got a lot of really good players up there. They’ve done a heck of a job and the team’s winning games.”
Gardiner arrived with the Penn State men’s hockey team with a reputation for offense, and in his first season on campus he made the stat sheet quite often, but he has proven to have more value at other points on the ice.
As the Nittany Lions (18-12-4, 10-7-1 Big Ten) head into the final weekend of the regular season with a visit to No. 15 Minnesota (19-12-3, 10-5-3) for games at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, they do so with one of the nation’s top goal-scoring offenses.
However, even though Gardiner has played nearly every game this season, he is well down in the scoring list.
Penn State has the No. 7 offense in Division I, averaging 3.41 goals per game, but Gardiner has just three goals and two assists this season while playing in 30 of the team’s 34 games. He nearly had a fourth score last Friday, but barely flicked the puck wide of the net on a breakaway in a win over Michigan.
At 6-foot-3 and 203 pounds, Gardiner uses his large frame more for defense and checking, and while some three-man line combinations have stuck together all season, Gardiner also has bounced around as part of 10 different lines.
“We had needs in other areas that he could fill,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “He’s done that, he’s done it with a smile on his face and pride in helping the team.”
He was a standout in high school in Deerhaven, Minn., as a finalist for the state’s Mr. Hockey Award, and spent a season with the Golden Gophers.
But after netting just two goals and three assists in 17 games, he left for a season in the USHL before resuming his college career at Penn State. He had three goals and 19 assists his first season, was one of four Lions to play in all 27 games in the program’s first Division I season, and for a time was matched with Taylor Holstrom and Casey Bailey.
Gardiner has accepted his role now, and knows his sacrifice has helped the team.
“I’m happy to do whatever it takes. I just want to do what I can to help the team win games and grow as a team,” he said. “You have to have a positive attitude at the rink every day, so where I am now I’m very happy to be there.”
He was a third-round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues in 2010, and as Gadowsky points out, the Blues may have been thinking they would be getting a goal-scorer, but now they will be getting much, much more.
“To play at that level,” Gadowsky said, “even the top offensive players have to be excellent without the puck and defensively, and that’s something I think can actually help him because his role has expanded. He’s not slotted in one spot.”
He now gets to end his college career – at least the regular-season part of it – on the same ice where it began. The Nittany Lions are chasing a top spot in the conference, with the Gophers among the four contenders in a tight Big Ten race. Gardiner is glad to be a part of a program surprising so many by being in contention.
“This is where we wanted to be, in the hunt coming down to the last weekend,” Gardiner said. “We have a chance to make something happen this weekend. It’ll be a special weekend to close out the regular season in my hometown.”
Goodwin earns star
David Goodwin was named the second star of the week by the Big Ten on Tuesday. The sophomore forward had a big weekend in the team’s weekend sweep of No. 20 Michigan.
He scored a goal in last Friday’s 6-3 win and had one goal and three assists, having a hand in every Penn State tally, in Saturday’s 4-3 victory.
While the scoring got the bulk of the attention, Gadowsky thought Goodwin’s overall effort against the nation’s top-scoring team also deserved praise.
“Goody deserves so much credit right now,” Gadowsky said. “I know he got points on the weekend, but that’s really not what it’s about. He won a lot of battles. He did play his best weekend aside from the points. I was really, really proud of him. He really responded. I think he took it upon himself.”
The case for Casey
One online site calls Casey Bailey “the most coveted forward on the collegiate free agent market this season,” (www.hockeysfuture.com) and another calls him “a highly-sought NHL free agent target” (sbncollegehockey.com). Teams like the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers are among the many teams reportedly interested in Penn State’s Hobey Baker Award nominee and the nation’s No. 5 goal-scorer.
“He has a legitimate, big-time shot,” Gadowsky said. “It’s something, he just has it. It’s of great value to a lot of teams, whether you’re college or NHL or whatever, he’s got it. There’s a lot of other things he has that aren’t so visible, that a lot of NHL scouts talk about.”
He has a powerful slap shot, and leads the team in shots on goal, but he also has greatly improved his game away from the puck and uses his long reach with his stick to disrupt passing lanes. But Gadowsky said the junior is trying to avoid all the NHL talk until after the season is over.
“That’s not just words, that’s really how he is,” Gadowsky said. “I think he’s handled it fantastic. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
The coach said teams can discuss options with Bailey’s family and any advisors they may have, and could understand both choices. While he would not want to lose the team’s top offensive threat, he also can see the boost it would give recruiting efforts with the program’s first NHL player.
Forwards Taylor Holstrom and Kenny Brooks will miss this weekend’s games again. Brooks played a portion of Friday’s win over the Wolverines but left fairly early with an undisclosed injury.
Holstrom has been out since Feb. 28 with a leg injury.
“Depends on how long the season goes, but he’s definitely out for this weekend,” Gadowsky said.
Goodwin moved into Holstrom’s center position on the line with Bailey, and Tommy Olczyk skated into the left wing spot on the line, but the changes were felt beyond that line.
“I think the whole team wanted to fill the void of Taylor by committee,” Gadowsky said. “But trust me we would love to have him back right now.”
Who’s in goal?
Gadowsky did not name a starting goalie for this weekend, wanting to wait a little longer to choose from Matthew Skoff, P.J. Musico or Eamon McAdam. Each has seen time in at least 10 games this season.