Penn State Hockey

Penn State hockey notebook: Nittany Lions looking to shore up defense

Penn State goalies Eamon McAdam (34) and Matthew Skoff, not pictured, will continue to split time between the pipes for the Nittany Lions. Penn State is adding an emphasis on improving its defense after giving up 10 goals to Notre Dame this weekend.
Penn State goalies Eamon McAdam (34) and Matthew Skoff, not pictured, will continue to split time between the pipes for the Nittany Lions. Penn State is adding an emphasis on improving its defense after giving up 10 goals to Notre Dame this weekend. CDT photo

The Penn State men’s hockey team knew it was a bad night, both for the team and goalie Matthew Skoff.

They gave up a lot of breaks, and a lot of golden opportunities, for Notre Dame in Friday night’s home opener that turned into a 7-4 loss.

Skoff was in the net for all seven goals, the most he had allowed in a game during his college career.

The Nittany Lions in front of him knew they let down their goalie.

“Any time you give up as many A-plus chances as we did, you feel for him,” junior forward David Goodwin said. “Who knows? (New York Rangers goalie) Henrik Lundqvist might not have stopped some of those chances.”

It was the product of a lot of things. The team is missing several starters and had seven freshmen skating in front of him. They also have made some tweaks to their system to get defensemen more involved in the offense.

The team got things shored up quickly, and the play on the ice looked a lot better Saturday in a 5-3 win over the Fighting Irish.

Goalie Eamon McAdam was the beneficiary, and he also knew how Skoff, who was not available for comment at the team’s weekly media session Monday, felt after the rough outing.

McAdam said sometimes goalies have to be put through a mentally rough outing like Friday to see how they react and rebound, and whether they stay sharp on the ice when the game is already out of hand.

“It’s something that’s needed in a big-time goalie, and a guy that plans on playing pro,” McAdam said. “You have to be able [to] just kind of shake it off and not let the team know that you’re down. He was pretty unbelievable with that.”

The scoring outburst, which included a hat trick for Steven Fogarty, also got McAdam’s attention.

“It made me look twice at the roster,” he said. “I knew they were skilled, but it made me look twice and think about how offensively skilled they were.”

Head coach Guy Gadowsky said the sharing of goaltending duties between Skoff and McAdam each weekend will continue, leaving no clear No. 1 netminder.

“We’ve committed to splitting them for a while,” Gadowsky said. “We haven’t decided what a while is, but certainly I don’t think one weekend is enough for that.”

Regardless of who is in goal, the Lions know they have to shore up their defense, and not allow so many high-quality chances for an opponent.

They also know they need Skoff to bounce back from the tough night.

“We’re going to need Skoffer as the year goes on,” Goodwin said. “The most important thing is we just need to keep his confidence up, because we’re going to need him down the stretch.”

Head injuries

The Penn State football program announced Monday a partnership with Head Health Network to study concussions and head injuries, including adding sensors to helmets.

Head injuries are also an important topic in hockey, with numerous players sidelined each year at all levels, and Gadowsky professed an interest in a study in his sport.

“It’s a very complex issue,” Gadowsky said. “When you first hear of it you just (think), ‘Oh, get a better helmet,’ but there are so many things that go into it, rules of the game versus tradition of the game and the integrity of the game.”

The coach noted the “gladiator effect” of having better equipment and protection not necessarily leading to fewer injuries. Because athletes feel more protected, it also makes them more aggressive, and concussions have increased in recent years.

“The best helmet in the world is not going to stop a concussion,” Gadowsky said. “It’s your brain rattling against the inside of your skull. There are times in hockey especially, because hockey has a very significant rotation effect, that your head might never come in contact with a body, the glass or the ice, and you still get a significant concussion.”

He also noted a raging debate about whether college teams should abandon their helmets with full coverage for the head, including facemasks, for helmets with visors, which are used in junior leagues all the way up to the NHL. He feels the vast majority of college coaches would prefer half-shields, and it would lead to more respect for an opponent’s head because all players would be vulnerable in the same way, even if there is less protection for their mouth.

“I don’t have my tooth today, so I guess it’s appropriate,” he said, grinning to show his missing front tooth. “The line is, ‘I’d rather gum my food than have it fed to me.’”

Still missing

Gadowsky said forward Eric Scheid has improved enough from a preseason “lower body” injury to have him now listed as “day-to-day,” though his status for this weekend’s games against American International is still uncertain. Fellow forwards James Robinson and Zach Saar remain definitely out. Defenseman Luke Juha has an illness and his status is uncertain as well.