Disciplined Hockey Leading to Success For Penn State
Plenty has been said about the hockey team’s improvement upon last year’s 8-26-2 Division I and Big Ten debut, but one of the most overlooked causes for the team’s success this season is its newfound disciplined play.
The first game ever played at Pegula Ice Arena, a 4-1 Penn State win over Army, was marred by nine minor penalties, a major penalty, and a game misconduct from the home team. That performance would end up being rather indicative of the rest of the season, as the Nittany Lions garnered a reputation for being prone to taking penalties. The team would go on to tally 191 penalties for a total of 443 penalty minutes, and committed an average of 5.3 penalties per game. Additionally, the team racked up seven major penalties over the course of the season.
Obviously, playing when you have a skater in the penalty box as often as the team did takes a toll on the defense. Penn State’s opponents scored 30 goals on 159 powerplay opportunities, good for almost one quarter of the team’s 129 goals allowed over the course of the entire season.
After the season came to a close, one of the biggest focuses of the offseason was to improve team discipline and allows fewer goals as a result. The team has bought into Coach Guy Gadowsky’s philosophy, and the numbers show it.
Through 19 games, the Nittany Lions have taken merely 70 penalties for a total of 170 minutes playing a man down. They average 3.7 penalties per game, and have only taken two majors. Penn State ranks sixth-lowest nationally in penalty minutes per game, and is best in the Big Ten. When adjusted to project their stats through 36 games and rounded to the nearest whole number, here is how last year’s team discipline compares to this year’s:
- Minor penalties: 179/133
- Major penalties: 7/4
- Penalties per game: 5.3/3.7
- Penalty minutes: 443/322
- Powerplay goals allowed: 30/23
- Penalty kill percentage: .811/.797
- Differential of penalties drawn/taken: -36/+19
- Differential of powerplay goals for/against: -7/+9
The last three statistics are the most telling. Going purely off of numbers, this year’s team has a worse penalty kill than last year. However, if the team continues taking penalties as infrequently as it has thus far, the raw amount of goals scored will be substantially fewer.
Another perk of taking fewer penalties is gaining a special teams advantage in a given matchup. Last season, Penn State took more penalties than the average team, which means that in most games, its opposition was on the powerplay more often. This season, because of its improved discipline, the opposite is true. Penn State has found itself on the man-advantage with more frequency, and the results are evident. Luke Juha, Casey Bailey, and Curtis Loik paced the team last season with four powerplay goals apiece, while this season, Bailey, Loik, and Max Gardiner already have three each.
All things said, one of the most impressive signs of growth for this Penn State team is its avoidance of bad penalties, which has helped out in almost every facet of its game. It’s a testament to the coaching staff’s experienced approach and to the team’s large cast of leaders, and the discipline is carrying the Nittany Lions to their best season yet.