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Urgency Setting In For Penn State Men’s Hockey Amid Slump

Not long ago, everything was going great for Penn State men’s hockey. The first half of the season saw the Nittany Lions start 9-0 for the first time in program history, reach the top five in the USCHO rankings for the first time in years, and play outstanding hockey against the likes of powerhouses Minnesota and Michigan.

Now, the Nittany Lions are 1-4-1 in 2023 after a humiliating series sweep against the Wolverines over the weekend.

Game one was over as soon as it started. Not even 10 minutes after the puck drop, Michigan was up 2-0 en route to a 7-3 blowout win.

Things initially looked much different in game two. Penn State scored two goals within the opening minute and then climbed to a 3-0 lead in the second period. Michigan had a goal disallowed and couldn’t generate much of anything in the first period and a half. But then, the Wolverines scored twice to make it 3-2. Penn State grabbed another goal, only to watch Michigan score three unanswered goals in a discouraging 5-4 loss.

To make matters worse, Penn State is officially winless in the state of Michigan in the regular season after a shootout loss and an overtime defeat in East Lansing just two weeks ago.

A team that had so much promise at the New Year is now struggling significantly, with blown leads in both games against Michigan State, game one against Notre Dame, and game two against Michigan — none of which resulted in a win for Penn State.

Heading into the Michigan series, head coach Guy Gadowsky was confident that his team was going to continue improving each week.

“I think it’s an overall team mentality issue,” Gadowsky said. “And the reason I think that is because we’ve discussed it with individuals and collectively in the team and I really do think that’s where it is.”

Hockey is a mental game as much as it is physical. Small plays, as Penn State has seen over the last few weeks, can immediately change the momentum. After all, multiple players were adamant that this was the culprit behind Penn State’s collapse against Michigan State.

When leading by a sizable margin, or any margin at all, it might be wise for Penn State to keep its foot on the gas pedal as if it were losing. The Big Ten is too competitive of a conference for a team to be caught putting up anything besides its best effort at all times. While opposing teams deserve credit for beating Penn State, blowing two-goal and three-goal leads is simply unacceptable.

Now, Penn State looks ahead to Ohio State. For the first time since November 11, Penn State is ranked lower than its opponent, so perhaps being the underdog could be a good thing for the Nittany Lions. For all we know, the Buckeyes could overlook a struggling Penn State team.

However, that won’t be the key to winning this weekend. Significant changes are needed, and obviously fast. Aside from the mentality issue, Gadowsky appears to know what needs to be done.

“We were nowhere near the level that we should be at and that’s in terms of getting to the net and taking advantage of what happens after those shots,” Gadowsky said. “It’s not just about shooting the puck, by any means.”

Additionally, Gadowsky feels there is something the team was doing successfully earlier in the season that it currently is not.

“There is something that we had a lot of attention to at the start of the year that we’ve relaxed our attention to and we will show [the team] on Tuesday, what that’s all about, and that’s what we did. So… it wasn’t a ‘boy we don’t know what the heck’s going on.’ We do,” Gadowsky said.

Gadowsky understands the importance of knowing what’s going on in his locker room, which is crucial. As the regular season’s end draws nearer and nearer, every week becomes more important. That is especially true this week, as both Penn State and Ohio State are tied for second place in the Big Ten with 27 points, and Notre Dame is only trailing by one.

The time for Penn State to put these woes in the rearview mirror and rise to the occasion is now. It’s too late in the season and the standings race is far too tight for any more mentality issues or other problems on the ice.

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About the Author

Nolan Wick

Nolan is a sophomore majoring in journalism. From the Maryland side of the D.C. suburbs, Nolan likes using Old Bay and is a diehard Washington sports fan, which isn't fun these days. If you want to keep in touch with Nolan, follow him on Instagram @_nolanwick or on Twitter @nolan_wick.

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