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‘Self-Inflicted Wounds’ Holding Penn State Men’s Hockey Back

It was another tough weekend for Penn State men’s hockey. While students were celebrating THON weekend at the Bryce Jordan Center, it was a different story across the street in Pegula Ice Arena.

The Nittany Lions were swept for the sixth time this season and the second time in a row, losing to No. 5 Minnesota 3-1 Friday night and blowing a three-goal lead to lose 6-4 Saturday night.

Penn State now finds itself in an unusual spot. The team’s current record (14-17-1) is on track to be Penn State’s worst since the 2013-14 season when the team went 8-26-2. While winning in the Big Ten is not an easy task, the team has had many chances to upset teams and improve its record, but it keeps falling back to the same problem: shooting itself in the foot.

Before we dive into the specifics, let’s run through a short recap of the season.

After a shaky 2020-21 campaign, the Nittany Lions started this season on a roll. Not only did they win five out of their first six games, but they also upset No. 6 North Dakota in front of a nearly sold-out crowd in Nashville back in October.

Things took a turn when the team opened up its Big Ten schedule by getting swept in consecutive series by Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan. The Nittany Lions were flat-out dominated in those four consecutive games. Just when the team had the chance to turn it around and defeated No. 7 Minnesota on the road, the Nittany Lions took two consecutive third-period penalties in a tie game and eventually lost the game.

Moments like that have defined Penn State’s season, and the theme persisted this weekend. The Nittany Lions turned the puck over too often, ultimately leading to a loss. Penn State then took a commanding 3-0 lead early in Saturday night’s game, but faulty (very faulty) defense and mental fragility once again plagued the Nittany Lions when the Golden Gophers came back to complete the series sweep.

Head coach Guy Gadowsky voiced his frustrations after Friday night’s loss.

“It was turnovers tonight, but in the past, there’s been other self-inflicted wounds that I was talking about,” Gadowsky said. “I thought we were taking steps in the right direction, but I don’t feel that way right now.”

The team has been held back from putting it all together, but even when it finally comes to fruition and the Nittany Lions play a complete game, they still make preventable mistakes.

“There’s a difference between working hard and working smart,” Gadowsky said following Friday night’s loss. “Look at Minnesota. They played an awesome road game. They didn’t hurt themselves…They played a very smart hockey game.”

It’s not easy to find that perfect balance between playing hard and playing smart, though. Gadowsky elaborated more in Monday’s media availability and mentioned that it’s not a short process to accomplish a more mature mindset.

“It takes time,” Gadowsky said. “It takes time to understand it, it takes time to practice it, and it takes time to test it in games. That’s the challenge.”

Perhaps the reason the team isn’t playing its best game is due to its relative inexperience. This is the first (somewhat) normal season for half of the team and the first full season that the juniors are going to play in a traditional Big Ten Tournament. Gadowsky may be done using that excuse though, as he said the team needs to “grow up” following Friday night’s loss.

Now, as the Big Ten tournament quickly approaches, the Nittany Lions are left scrambling, trying to find a solution to putting everything together. When that happens, Gadowsky thinks his squad is a force to be reckoned with.

“If we can put our games together in the playoffs, then I like what we have,” he said.

The Nittany Lions have a chance to gain momentum before the Big Ten Tournament when they travel to East Lansing to take on Michigan State in their final regular-season series. If the Nittany Lions can squeak out two wins, they will at least have the chance to jump ahead of Wisconsin and into a fifth seed in the tournament. Puck drop for the first game is set for Friday, February 26, at 7 p.m.

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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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