The Penn State men’s hockey team is itching for a break.
They get one after Friday’s game.
But it’s also a tricky situation for the Nittany Lions (10-2-3), who moved up to No. 16 in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll and No. 12 in the Pairwise rankings.
As college students, they get a welcome two weeks off, but as a hockey team unbeaten in its last eight games, there is the fear of the loss of momentum.
“There are some times when breaks are welcome,” coach Guy Gadowsky said at his weekly session with the media Monday. “Often that happens when things aren’t going well or you’ve caught an injury bug. ... We’re not really thrilled where the calendar’s at right now. That’s something out of our control.”
The Nittany Lions just completed a weekend sweep of Michigan State, earning 4-2 and 6-1 wins, and their rankings in the USCHO and Pairwise lists are an all-time best.
They are back at Pegula Ice Arena on Friday to face Princeton (4-8) before their hiatus. They do not play again until venturing to Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center to meet Robert Morris on Dec. 28, giving them 16 days without a game.
“It’s going to be a test of our maturity, how we have matured as a team,” Penn State’s David Glen said. “It’s a level of professionalism that we’ve been working on, and it takes that to come into this weekend.”
They will be taking final exams next week before everyone scatters. Having just one game before exam week also helps.
“A little easier on the body and mind,” Glen said. “You’re maybe up a little later studying, that sort of thing.”
Glen, the team captain from Alberta, Canada, was fairly certain nearly everyone would be heading home. Even, the Nittany Lion with the longest flight, Erik Autio, flies home next week to Espoo, Finland.
“It’ll be two days of travel,” said Autio said. “I get to spend six days in Finland. I think it’s worth it.”
Autio has to fly back Dec. 25, however, since the team reconvenes in State College on Dec. 26.
Still, Gadowsky is glad his team continues to get national attention with its start to the season.
“They know that they put themselves in a pretty good position,” Gadowsky said “Every game is important. It’s nice to be in that conversation in college hockey, when you’re at a point when every game is important.”
Big Ten suspends Scheid
Forward Eric Scheid has been suspended for Friday’s game by the Big Ten, the conference announced Monday. The fifth-year senior delivered a hit to the head of a Michigan State player with one minute left in Saturday’s 6-1 win over the Spartans.
Scheid, who scored a pair of goals, was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for the blow by the officials.
“All majors are reviewed by the league,” Gadowsky said. “The league deemed that he would miss one game.”
Gadowsky said James Robinson likely will not return this season. The sophomore suffered an “upper body injury” in the first period of the season opener at Canisius on Oct. 10 and had surgery Nov. 3.
“From everything that we know, he will not be back this year,” the coach said Monday. “If he is it’s definitely a surprise. We are absolutely planning not to have him.”
Gadowsky said there won’t be a conversation about a medical redshirt year until after the season.
While pretty much the entire Nittany Lion team has been on fire, ranking fourth in the nation in scoring offense (4.27 goals per game) and 14th in scoring defense (2.27 gpg), the one combination that was expected to be a big contributor that hasn’t is Scheid and Dylan (Rocket) Richard. Richard (minus-6) and Scheid (minus-3) join defenseman Mike Williamson (minus-1) as the only Lions on the negative side in plus-minus.
For the trip to Alaska a few weeks ago, the coaches switched David Goodwin to the Scheid-Richard line and moved Alec Marsh up with Glen and freshman Andrew Sturtz.
“We thought at the beginning of the year, the most synergy we had was with Scheid and Rocket together,” Gadowsky said. “They’ve certainly exhibited some of that in the power play, but not 5-on-5, and ... they were our only two minus players, at least forwards. The thinking was giving them a little jolt and get them going.”
Gadowsky feels Marsh’s gritty style should match with Glen and Sturtz. The move showed in Saturday’s win, with Richard assisting Scheid on two even-strength goals and Goodwin picking up one assist.
Revolving door in net
Gadowsky said the team will continue to rotate its starting goalies for the forseeable future, alternating Matthew Skoff and Eamon McAdam. Skoff will again get his turn to start Friday against the Tigers.