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Penn State Hockey Tweaks Winter Break Routine With Hopes Of Improving January Fortunes

January hasn’t always been kind to Penn State hockey.

The Nittany Lions went through two separate four-game losing streaks in January 2018 and 2019, and they’ve posted a combined record of 8-12-3 in January over their past three full seasons. This year, the team’s fortunes have slightly improved coming off of its yearly winter break, going a perfect 3-0-0 record thanks to victories over Niagara and Robert Morris.

A number of factors have contributed to Penn State’s January struggles, perhaps including Aarne Talvitie and Evan Barratt’s absences following the U-20 World Junior Championship last year and the pressure of being the nation’s No. 1 team for the first time ever in 2017. However, head coach Guy Gadowsky and assistant coach Keith Fisher identified another possible cause for their team’s struggles at the start of a new year.

“We tried to change things up along with [strength and conditioning coach] Cam Davidson out of the break and coming back from Christmas,” Gadowsky said. “I don’t know if that’s the main reason [for the team’s success out of break] — just the recognition of having to do a better job — but you have to give Cam Davidson a lot of credit as well as how the guys came back.”

According to Gadowsky, the changes made to his players’ winter-break routine weren’t complete overhauls. Instead, the team adjusted its scheduling when it comes to off-ice workouts and when the players returned to Happy Valley following their time away.

Senior netminder Peyton Jones has been particularly busy for the Nittany Lions this year. The Big Ten’s leader in wins this year started 19 of Penn State’s 22 contests so far in 2019-20, and he has plenty of faith in his program’s longtime strength coach and the changes he’s made.

“It was just managing our load. Managing our gym [work], managing practices to make sure we’re hitting our peak at the right time during the week and we’re fresh for Friday and Saturday games,” Jones, who leads the Big Ten with 14 victories this season, said. “Cam’s good at his job, so he know’s what he’s doing.”

Unlike a few other winter sports’ student-athletes, Penn State’s hockey players get the luxury of a prolonged break during the holiday season. Managing their off-ice workload during time off is definitely important — but nowhere near as important as quality family time.

Because of that, getting some time away from the rink was a welcome change of pace for senior center Nate Sucese.

“I thought break was awesome. It was good to get away. We kind of had a front-loaded schedule there, and we were kind of getting worn down a little bit,” Sucese said. “I think everyone went home and used the break to spend time with our families, which is huge.”

Penn State is just three games out of its winter break, but despite that, the team wasn’t at full strength last week against Robert Morris. Team captain Brandon Biro is day-to-day due to an undisclosed injury that kept him off the ice in Pittsburgh, and as of Monday, Aarne Talvitie hadn’t arrived back in Happy Valley after attending to a personal matter back home in Finland out of break.

Biro and Talvitie’s availability for this weekend’s series against Michigan is unclear. The two-game set will get going at 7 p.m. on Friday at Pegula Ice Arena before the teams square off against at 6 p.m. Saturday.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

Mikey is a senior majoring in journalism and Onward State's Sports Editor. He grew up in Bedminster, NJ and is way too obnoxious about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is hard. If you're dying to see more hockey/golf content on your timeline, you can follow Mikey on Twitter @mikey_mandarino. Send all hate mail, death threats, and your vote for the best chicken parm in State College to [email protected]

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