Penn State Hockey

Freshmen giving big boost to Penn State hockey team

Penn State’s Chase Berger skates down the ice with the puck ahead of Minnesota defenders during the Saturday, January 9, 2016 game at Pegula Ice Arena. Minnesota won 7-1.
Penn State’s Chase Berger skates down the ice with the puck ahead of Minnesota defenders during the Saturday, January 9, 2016 game at Pegula Ice Arena. Minnesota won 7-1. Centre Daily Times, file

Sometimes it can take freshmen a little while to get comfortable on campus.

Learning their way around, getting used to class schedules and homework — plus the rigors of being an athlete — can weigh on some first-year student-athletes.

For those on the Penn State men’s hockey team, it’s like they’ve been here for a couple of years.

And there is little reason they shouldn’t feel even more comfortable now that they are into the spring semester.

“They’ve been really at ease … all along,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “They’ve really done a great job of integrating with the team. The upperclassmen have continued to give them a ton of credit in their willingness to learn.”

The No. 15 Nittany Lions (13-4-3, 3-1 Big Ten) throw those freshmen into the conference fires again this weekend hosting Wisconsin (4-8-6, 1-3-2-1) at 6:30 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday at Pegula Ice Arena.

With 25 men on the roster this season, nearly one-third of them are in their first year of college.

The eight freshmen are definitely having an impact.

Chase Berger is leading the team in goals with 10, which is also fourth in the conference, and Andrew Sturtz with nine. Those two, along with Alec Marsh (5 goals, 9 assists) and defenseman Vince Pedrie (5 goals, 6 assists), also have played in each of the team’s 20 games this season. Plus, Berger, Sturtz and Marsh all rank among the top five in points among Big Ten freshmen.

In all, the newcomers account for 29 goals and 37 assists, which is more than the team’s juniors and sophomores combined for each category. Only the eight seniors account for better numbers, with 31 goals and 58 assists.

Now into their third weekend of conference play, with an opponent like the Badgers hitting town, the freshmen are excited for the grind of this part of the season.

“Everybody gets a little bit more excited,” Marsh said. “A little more chips on our shoulders, stuff like that. It really changed a lot for us.”

Gadowsky said he hasn’t gotten official numbers yet, but the eight new Lions also did well in the classroom in the first semester as well, combining to average about a 3.6 GPA.

It did help that nearly all of them got on campus for the summer session to get broken in a little early.

Still, after playing junior hockey for the past few years, where the sport was pretty much their only concern and there were no worries about grades, the fall semester was challenging at times.

“It was pretty tough,” Marsh said. “There were some days when you just wanted to come home and shut it down for the day, but you’ve got to stay dedicated to everything.”

With all those classes under their belts, the freshmen felt a little more comfortable with the new round of classes starting last Monday.

“There’s a lot less worry what’s going on off the ice,” Berger said. “You can just kind of focus more on just going on the ice, working hard, and kind of try to get better there.”

That comfort level will come in handy in the next few months, with time management an even bigger factor. After this weekend, the Nittany Lions will only have three remaining games at Pegula Ice Arena out of the 14 left on the regular-season schedule, with every game a conference contest. It will test them mentally and physically.

“The only difference is we’re going to be traveling a little bit more,” Marsh said. “I definitely have the gist of things down now, between how to manage time and stuff like that.”

Gordon Brunskill: 814-231-4608, @GordonCDT

Men’s ice hockey

Who: Wisconsin (4-8-6, 1-3-2-1) at No. 15 Penn State (13-4-3, 3-1)

Where: Pegula Ice Arena

When: 6:30 p.m. Friday, 6 p.m. Saturday

TV: BTN (Friday), ESPNU (Saturday)

Radio: WAPY 103.1