Penn State Hockey’s Defense Takes Huge Step Forward In Sweep Of Minnesota
Penn State men’s hockey has struggled defensively this season.
The Nittany Lions are one of two teams in the Big Ten that have conceded more than 100 goals this season. Michigan State has allowed 104 goals, and Penn State is right behind with 102 goals against through 28 games.
It may have just been for a weekend, but those defensive struggles were an afterthought against Minnesota. The Nittany Lions gave up only four goals in a two-game sweep of the Golden Gophers, who managed to fire just 50 shots on Peyton Jones’ goal over the weekend.
“I thought we took a step, specifically in the defensive zone,” head coach Guy Gadowsky said following Penn State’s 6-2 victory Saturday night. “We’re not there yet by any means, but we took a positive step.”
The team’s strong defensive outing against the Golden Gophers was mostly a product of keeping Minnesota’s shot attempts to a minimum. Peyton Jones played well, but he wasn’t particularly busy in goal throughout the weekend because the Nittany Lions’ five-man unit did so well to limit the amount of shots dealt with.
Sacrifice is a huge part of a total defensive effort, and no one exemplified that more than junior forward Blake Gober. His performance didn’t necessarily fill up the stat sheet, but Gober had an excellent game and was a crucial part of the strong defensive performance.
One of Gober’s penalty kill shifts was a perfect microcosm of his game. He took a huge hit while advancing the puck up the ice and violently crashed into the end boards behind Minnesota’s goal, but he bounced right back up, re-joined the play on defense, and blocked a shot before clearing the puck and getting off the ice.
“That fired us up,” sophomore forward Alex Limoges said. “We’ve been talking about that as a team — we have to get excited by the little things. Battling adversity on one end and getting up and blocking a shot is exactly what we’re looking for.”
At the end of the day, Penn State’s defensive struggles don’t boil down to the six-man defensive unit, the group of forwards, or even poor fundamentals in terms of stick positioning or missed coverages. Gadowsky has preached all year that the defensive woes would correct themselves once the team’s mentality was on point, and fans saw the product of that mentality improvement against the Gophers.
“It’s just an entire team mentality,” Gadowsky added. “We don’t place that on one line or position. We have to coach better — we have to make [defense] a priority without it taking away from our offense.”
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