Curtis Loik’s Statistical Dominance Raises More Questions Than Answers
Who is the best player on Penn State’s men’s hockey team?
Ask that question a year ago and you get an instant, obvious answer. Casey Bailey led the nation in shots, and at times in the middle of the season, goals. He had underrated ability in his defensive zone, and he was Penn State’s highest-ever finisher in Hobey Baker voting — not to mention he was the program’s first-ever NHL player.
No one on the roster looks like they have those credentials, at least not yet. David Goodwin has only one goal on the year, though he’s over a point-per-game clip. Eric Scheid missed the year’s first few games, and although he’s looked outstanding, he’s had trouble scoring. There are a number of freshmen who have been great in a small sample size, but are ultimately unproven. The next player worth considering is the current leader in points, the typically inconsistent Curtis Loik.
His 10 points in seven games, good for 1.43 per game, leads the Big Ten. Interestingly enough, that already matches his second-highest full-season output at Penn State. He has flown mostly under the radar during his time here. The 3,000-mile journey for the British Columbia native is equal parts unlikely sounding and coolly calculated.
“I’ve been away from home since I was 15-years old, playing juniors, and I just kinda got used to that lifestyle being away from home,” Loik said. “Being at Penn State, it was the four best years of my life. It’s been a ton of fun, coming from Penticton to here…That first year in Greenberg, there were a lot of good memories in there, with the yellow lighting, and those days when it was absolutely freezing in there…To come to something with Pegula, in the next few years, that was the reason we came and the reason for our success too and our coaching staff, it all comes together, the student-athlete life here is unbelievable, what you get for your academics as well.”
A junior career playing for the Penticton Vees of the BCHL (current home of former Nittany Lion Scott Conway) saw him peak at 37 points in 52 games. For reference, Conway currently has 26 points in 13 games. Loik wasn’t the most highly touted prospect as he chose to move into NCAA hockey, but Penn State and Guy Gadowsky saw his potential. Gadowsky’s high-flying and oft-shooting offense is styled for smaller forwards like Goodwin and Scheid and for fast defensemen, but there’s always room for some parity, and that’s what Loik provides.
“I think our team fits [Gadowsky’s system] well,” Loik said. “We have fast-moving D, we have Juha, Autio, Pedrie, you could name them all. They’re all skilled D-men who can jump up in the play so when we have guys coming down the wall and the puck’s going up the wall and our D can jump down, that causes more pressure, more havoc for us. It helps the forwards out, we can play more offensive, we can cheat a bit more, and I think it’s really resulting in the back of their net from the D jumping and Gadowsky’s way of his offensive approach.”
“He’s having a great start, his impact on the team is when he’s shooting the puck and when he’s a power forward,” Gadowsky said. “When he plays the power forward game he’s really really effective, when he plays a perimeter game he’s not. His effect on the team right now is he is leading the team in shots [Ed. note — Loik leads the team in shots on goal, and Pedrie leads the team in total shots attempted]. He has a very positive effect on the team. His challenge is going to be consistency in that way. We’ve seen years in the past where he’s also started out extremely focused in that sense and he’s let it slide a little bit, and I think his challenge is to be consistent in doing what makes him really good. This is no offense to his stick-handling, he is a good stick-handler, but he’s a power forward. He is a very powerful guy — a very, very powerful guy — and he’s got a great shot, and when he does that, he’s really really good. When he starts to get perimeter…sometimes the more success he gets, the more apt he is to make fancy plays, and his challenge is to never forget what makes him really successful.”
Gadowsky’s explanation of his early success passes the eyeball test too. Loik’s style of play is noticeably different this season than for portions of last year, and not just because he’s had more opportunities to celebrate on the ice. His puck protection and play in front of the net have been elite, and better yet, gone are the days where he’d play with similarly built players who were relied on to play defense rather than offense. This is Loik’s first sustained chance in recent memory to play on a scoring line. He’s seized the opportunity along with fellow veteran Kenny Brooks and freshman Chase Berger, who rank fifth and third on the team in scoring, respectively.
“Right from the beginning when I met [Berger] over the summer we’ve had that kind of friendship, he’s a good guy, but can’t forget about Kenny Brooks, he’s an excellent player too. He battles his you-know-what off and Berger does the same. Berger’s got a great shot, he’s a great skater, and he has great vision. It’s a pleasure to play with those two and I’m excited for the rest of the season.”
Loik’s physical ability is there, that’s never been a question. It’s always been, how long can he maintain this success? Will he fade among the other scoring leaders, or will he become the next Casey Bailey? And if his early-season success is indeed an indication of what’s to come, can he reach his ultimate goal at Penn State?
“I’m just focusing on here,” he said. “I’m just focusing on school and winning a National Championship.”