Pandemic Difficulties ‘A Necessary Evil’ For Penn State Men’s Hockey

Now that Penn State men’s hockey’s regular season has come to an end, the Nittany Lions will face off with Notre Dame for the fifth time on Sunday, March — this time in the Big Ten Tournament.

Things haven’t been going too well for the Nittany Lions over the last five weeks, though. Penn State suspended team activity due to positive COVID tests among the team’s Tier 1 personnel. After the 34-day hiatus, the Nittany Lions fell to the Fighting Irish twice in South Bend last weekend. The team didn’t look good on the surface, but few realized what the team needed to go through to get back on the ice.

Following Penn State’s quarantine, players were able to practice only in their living groups throughout the week prior to the series. The entire team had only one practice together before the games.

It was obvious to see the effect of not being able to practice did to the team last weekend. After opening up the scoring in both games and starting hot, the Nittany Lions eventually fell apart toward the middle of each game and couldn’t keep up with the Fighting Irish.

Defensemen Jimmy Dowd and Clayton Phillips both suffered injuries in the series and are listed as day-to-day ahead of the tournament. Despite the end result from the weekend, head coach Guy Gadowsky is feeling more optimistic about the team’s upcoming game.

“I think that experience was a necessary evil,” Gadowsky said Monday. “Our number one priority right now is to make sure we are as prepared physically as possible. That’s why I say last weekend was a necessary evil. It was very difficult, but I think that experience will help us at least come this weekend.”

Captain Alex Limoges said he’s also ready to learn from the past and focus on the upcoming game.

“It’s just a learning opportunity,” Limoges said. “We saw that coaches are doing a lot of video right now to see where we can improve and we’re making practices around that. So, definitely a learning aspect. Any time we play is really a learning aspect.”

Even though the team didn’t look great on paper, a few players stood out over the weekend. Sophomore forward Tyler Gratton made a noticeable impact on Penn State’s forecheck throughout the weekend.

“I think that’s what makes him special,” Gadowsky said. “He’s a very interesting player in the fact that he is extremely effective and has learned to walk the line very carefully. I can tell you, it’s something that Tyler Gratton has worked really, really hard at. He’s got that presence with a tough body, and he goes through people.”

In addition to Gratton’s impressive play, goalie Oskar Autio also showed flashes of brilliance over the weekend. Even though Autio allowed an average of 4.5 goals in each game, the junior goaltender made multiple saves to keep Penn State in the games.

“As a goalie, you never want to have those high-scoring games, but I thought I had a couple of pretty good saves there,” Autio said. “I honestly felt pretty good. I thought it was definitely a little tough after a month or so to hop back into games, but we’re all really excited. Now, we’re just trying to shift our focus toward next Sunday and making sure to be ready at Notre Dame.”

Penn State will face off against Notre Dame in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Sunday, March 14. Puck drop is set for noon on the Big Ten Network.

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About the Author

Frankie Marzano

Frankie is a senior accounting and economics major from Long Island, NY. You can probably recognize him as the typical Italian-American with slicked back black hair. He is an avid fan of the New York Rangers and Mets, along with every Penn State Athletics team. Follow him on Twitter @frankiemarzano for obnoxious amounts of Rangers and Penn State content or email him at [email protected].

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