Blue White Illustrated

December 2021

Penn State Sports Magazine

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Page 48 of 67

D E C E M B E R 2 0 2 1 4 9 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M MEN'S ICE HOCKEY T he identity of the Penn State men's ice hockey program under head coach Guy Gadowsky has frequently revolved around doing more with less. Now in its 10th season at the Division I level, Penn State is not a program that rakes in the NHL talent. The Nittany Li- ons' current roster includes three NHL draft picks: Kevin Wall, Clayton Phillips and Chase McClane. That is tied with Ohio State for the lowest total in the Big Ten. Casey Bailey is still the only true Penn State player to appear in the NHL, hav- ing seen action in 13 games for the To- ronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Sena- tors from 2014 to 2017. Brett Murray has recently broken into the pro ranks with the Buffalo Sabres, but he played only 33 games for Penn State before opting to return to junior hockey. For better or worse, NHL Draft picks are often used as a measure of talent on college hockey rosters. There are no easily accessible prospect rankings. On the ice, star ratings don't matter be- cause they don't exist. Gadowsky and the Nittany Lions have frequently demonstrated the flaws in that approach through 10 seasons in Happy Valley. Nate Sucese finished his career with 140 points in 147 games. Alex Limo- ges produced a 50-point season in 2019. Trevor Hamilton won a Big Ten Defen- sive Player of the Year award. All of those players were undrafted, and there are countless others like Brandon Biro, Pey- ton Jones and Andrew Sturtz who proved to be outstanding college hockey players despite going unmentioned on draft day. Asked if there was a ceiling for a pro- gram that depends on developmental success to produce good players, Gad- owsky took a few moments to ponder the question. "I don't know," he said. "I'm a little bit of a romantic that way. There are great sports stories all over the world that suggest there isn't. The conscience in you and reality sort of say there is, but then you're always reminded in different sports every year that maybe there isn't, and what you thought the ceiling was isn't quite there, and you have people or teams that surprise you. "So, I guess the romantic in me says no, I don't think so. I think that groups of people that pull the same way and be- lieve in each other can always continue to surprise people." There are instances, of course, when that surprise doesn't come. A two-game series Nov. 11-12 against No. 2 Michigan at Pegula Ice Arena provided a perfect ex- ample of that for the Nittany Lions. Mel Pearson's Wolverines are every- thing that Penn State isn't. Their roster boasts four of the top five picks in the 2021 NHL Draft, including top overall pick Owen Power. That has never hap- pened before. In total, Michigan rolled into Happy Valley with seven first-round draft choices. The Nittany Lions are still waiting for their first one. That hasn't always led to more suc- cess in the bigger picture. Penn State has a more recent Big Ten regular- season title and a more recent Big Ten Tournament championship than the Wolverines. But, in this series, the dif- ference in class was clear. The Wolverines bulldozed their way to a series sweep, dropping Penn State to 0-4 in Big Ten play. Michigan claimed a 5-1 win in the series opener before rout- ing the Nittany Lions 6-2 one night later. Penn State did some good things in this series, to be clear. The Nittany Lions outshot the Wolverines in both games. But Michigan was bigger, faster and stronger. The puck came off the Wolver- ines' sticks differently. The Nittany Lions' goaltenders did their team no favors, either. Senior Oskar Autio and sophomore Liam Souliere com- bined to post an ugly .807 save percentage in the series. Penn State's netminders now own an .889 save percentage for the sea- son, eight percentage points lower than any other Big Ten team as of Nov. 14. Gadowsky insisted that ugly number is a team statistic, rather than an indication of a goaltending problem. "If I felt that the goaltender wasn't up to it, I'd tell you," he said. "I think that we've earned that stat. I don't think that's necessarily the goalies." Things just aren't clicking for the Nit- tany Lions right now. Gadowsky has spent much of the season discussing the need for Penn State's players to buy into the program's identity. That means ag- gression on the forecheck. Active defen- semen. Shots from distance. Rebound goals. A relentless mentality. The Nittany Lions aren't getting that. For one reason or another, Penn State hasn't shifted into gear. Without the benefit of elite, NHL-caliber talent like some of the teams they'll encounter in the Big Ten this season, they'll need to do so soon to get back on the right track before it's too late. So, does Gadowsky feel like his team is close? "Not yet," he said after his team's loss to open the Michigan series. "Not yet." ■ TALENT SHOW As a pair of lopsided losses to No. 2 Michigan illustrate, sometimes more is more DAV I D E C K E RT | DAV I D E C K E R T 9 8 @ G M A I L . C O M In his decade as Penn State's head coach, Guy Gadowsky has been able to win Big Ten titles without an abun- dance of NHL-caliber players. PHOTO BY RYAN SNYDER

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