Blue White Illustrated

January 2022

Penn State Sports Magazine

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Page 45 of 67

4 6 J A N U A R Y 2 0 2 2 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 C oach Guy Gadowsky was feel- ing somewhat flustered after his Penn State men's ice hockey team split a late-November series against then-No. 7 Minnesota. After stealing a 5-3 victory over the Golden Gophers on their home ice in the first game, Gadowsky's Nittany Lions couldn't complete a statement-making sweep the next night. "I thought in many ways we played better tonight than we did last night," Gadowsky said after the 4-2 loss on Nov. 20. "It's just disappointing." That has been a common refrain this season. More often than not, Penn State has found itself in control of the game; through their first 19 games, the Nit- tany Lions attempted 58.7 percent of the shots at even strength — good enough for fifth in the country. Yet they entered their winter break at 11-8 overall and at the bottom of the Big Ten standings with a 3-7 conference record. The Nittany Lions have improved in conference play following an 0-4 start, but their progress hasn't always led to victory. Nevertheless, Gadowsky and his staff are trying to view the season through a positive lens. "The coaching staff was encouraged," Gadowsky said following a 4-3 loss to Michigan State on Dec. 4 in which the Lions outshot the Spartans 53-29. "Look, you're not going to win every game. Hockey has referees, goalies and rubber pucks. You put those three things together and a lot of different things can happen. You can play very well and lose, and you can have an average night and win." So, what is happening at the margins to keep the Nittany Lions out of the win column? Why are they sitting in the Big Ten's cellar if they control the run of play at even strength more often than not? For one, Penn State hasn't been able to stay out of the penalty box. The Nittany Lions have conceded 19 power-play goals, tied for the fifth-most in the country. Penn State's penalty kill is poor. The Nittany Lions kill 75.6 percent of their penalties, which is 45th among 59 Divi- sion I teams. And PSU has been putting a ton of pressure on that struggling unit, especially recently. In six of its eight games leading up to the break, Penn State gave up at least four power-play opportunities. Those lapses led to 11 power-play goals, roughly 48 percent of the goals the Nittany Lions al- lowed over the stretch. Only once in that span did the Lions go a game without al- lowing a goal on the man advantage. Penn State isn't getting spectacular goaltending, either. Senior netminder Oskar Autio ranks 44th in the nation with a .901 save percentage. That is sixth among the seven primary goal- tenders in the Big Ten. And yet, despite Penn State's prob- lems and the poor conference record, postseason aspirations are still very much on the table. The Nittany Lions sit 24th in the Pair- wise, a formula that the NCAA Tourna- ment Selection Committee uses to put together its field. Penn State will need to climb about 10 spots to give itself a chance. "The big picture, I mean, it's encour- aging," Gadowsky said. "We've had a lot of players that have played major min- utes who have moved on. Even though our ages may be up there, there are very few guys who have had time on the power play, the penalty kill, four-on-four, key defensive zone face-offs." The Nittany Lions boast a top-10 of- fense nationally with 65 goals to this point in the season. Spearheading that attack are two tal- ented junior forwards. Kevin Wall and Connor MacEachern each entered the winter break with 11 goals, tying them for the Big Ten lead with Brendan Brisson and Matty Beniers of Michigan as of mid- December. MacEachern and Wall are far from goal-hunting mercenaries. Gadowsky frequently praises each of them for their team play, insisting the reason they score so prolifically is because they do the little things right. Wall echoes his coach's emphasis on mastering details. The keys to that ap- proach, he said, are "not turning pucks over at blue lines, just making sure you're playing the systems right because the systems are meant to create offense and create chances. When you buy into that, everything is going to kind of fall in place for you." The Nittany Lions are hoping that Wall and MacEachern can help the team climb out of the lower reaches of the Big Ten standings. Penn State returned to action on Dec. 31 for a nonconference series with Maine and will welcome Notre Dame to Pegula Ice Arena a week later for the re- sumption of Big Ten play. "We feel good about it," Gadowsky said. "Coming into the situation we we're in, we're not going to judge the job we do in December." ■ Thinking Outside The Box PSU still has postseason hopes – if it can rein in its penchant for penalties 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 Junior forward Kevin Wall was one of two Nittany Lions who were tied for the Big Ten lead with 11 goals heading into the winter break. PHOTO BY RYAN SNYDER ■ SEE PSU'S HOCKEY SCHEDULE PAGE 64

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