Penn State Men’s Hockey Seeking Increased Consistency Ahead Of Big Ten Opener
After seven games against non-conference teams, Penn State men’s hockey is approaching its first Big Ten series of the season against Notre Dame this weekend. The Nittany Lions are 5-2-0 and have split series matchups against AIC and Alaska Anchorage.
While things have mostly been positive for Penn State, the team was adamant that there are things in need of improvement. Consistency was a recurring note among players, which makes sense given the Nittany Lions have yet to sweep a two-game series.
“I think we’ve had some really good games, and I think we’ve had some really poor performances as well,” senior forward Chase McLane said. “I think we just need to be more consistent.”
“One-hundred percent. We’ve done a lot of good things and we’ve done not good things,” defenseman and captain Christian Berger echoed.
The total number of goals allowed in Penn State’s first games compared to the second games of its series have been vastly different. The Nittany Lions won both first games 3-2 and 2-1, respectively, but lost the second games 6-4 and 6-5.
Head coach Guy Gadowsky is aware of this statistic, but he doesn’t yet have an answer as to why it’s happening. Penn State’s 54 shots in last weekend’s series opener against Alaska Anchorage was a season-high, and the Nittany Lions outplayed the Seawolves for the better part of the game. Oddly, the result of such a high-octane offensive showing was only a 2-1 win.
“I don’t have an answer for it,” Gadowsky said. “If you look at everything other than the scoreboard, you’d think that the first game we played against [Alaska Anchorage] would be the highest-scoring game that we played, and that wasn’t the case.”
Either way, it’s something that needs to be addressed before facing the Fighting Irish, who have fared better in second games. While they’re 2-1 in both the first and second games, the Irish’s two shutout wins have been in the second game.
Notre Dame goaltender Ryan Bischel, who was named the 2023 Big Ten Goaltender of the Year, is always a threat. He put on a masterclass at Pegula Ice Arena last season when the Nittany Lions were defeated 2-1 by the Fighting Irish, despite Penn State registering 53 shots on goal.
Despite this, Penn State isn’t the type of team to change the way it plays. The team is confident in its identity, regardless of the opponent and who’s in net on the other end of the ice.
“They’ve got a great goalie, but the key to success is to do what we do better than what they do,” Berger said. “We’re not changing our game plan for them. We’re just trying to execute our game plan as well as we can.”
While Penn State won’t change the way it plays against Bischel, Gadowsky did say that strategies can sometimes differ depending on the opponent.
“There are certain things that you do tactically against different teams’ systems, but we’ve not yet really changed towards a goaltender,” Gadowsky added.
Penn State tries to wear down its opponent before it cracks and lets a goal in, whereas some other teams have a more patient or faster style of play.
“We’ve had some success offensively, but you have to work really hard to play the way we play,” Berger added. “We’ve got to get a lot of shots on net, we’ve got to win battles, we’ve got to get bodies to the net so that we create second and third chances… I think we just consistently need to be doing that type of stuff.”
Everything comes down to consistency, but that’s difficult to achieve and sometimes unreasonable to expect in a sport with so much left to chance in a game. Penn State will roll out the same game plan as it usually does on Saturday and Sunday, but whether the results come or not remains to be seen.
“Hockey’s unique,” Gadowsky said. “It doesn’t always mean that the game that’s on the scoreboard goes the way the quality or the play dictates.”
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“To any current underclassmen reading this: learn the fight song, cheer loud, and tailgate early. You’re lucky to be a Nittany Lion.”
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