Down By The River
After two exciting come-from-behind wins on Halloween weekend at Pegula Ice Arena over Bentley University, the Nittany Lions got a full week without playing another squad.
While typically a team would be grateful of receiving that extra rest and practice time for their next opponent, coach Guy Gadowsky didn’t think the break really benefited his team, citing the fact that the team was "struggling to get their feet back," after the competition-less week.
"Both of those games were come from behind victories that showed a lot of character, but there were a few big, glaring mistakes that we had that were very easily defined that we have to work on," the fourth-year coach said. "We recognize that we have a lot of work to do,"
Gadowsky mentioned the work that they have to do in part because of the bit of rust involved with a few days away from the ice, but also as a nod to the fact that their opposition this week, UMass Lowell, will be the best team they have played all season long.
Facing off against the River Hawks for the second time in as many years, Gadowsky will be looking for a better result than the sweep that his team suffered a season ago.
"I don’t think that the guys should feel intimidated," Gadowsky said. "I think we’re a much different team than when we played them last year."
In the Lions’ two home matchups with UMass Lowell a year ago, they lost the first game, 4-0, before losing the second contest by a closer 3-2 score. The goalie for Penn State in that 4-0 defeat was none other than junior goaltender Matthew Skoff—the man who has started every game for Penn State so far this season.
Skoff noted that UMass Lowell was a super strong team, and one of the highest scoring teams in the nation, and was quick to praise the program at large.
"They’re a great program, and their coaching staff does a great job," the goalie said. He also noted that playing the high level of competition could help to keep the team grounded, knowing that they can’t just go in and "expect" a win, insisting that they would instead have to "earn" the victory.
Levelheaded as always, Gadowsky always wants his team to emerge victorious, but he isn’t thinking too much about the team’s results this weekend.
"It’s a good evaluation for us, but I’m not so sure that we’re going to weight it more than any other weekend," Gadowsky said.
One thing that Gadowsky specifically pointed out that his team would need to improve on was their "unacceptable" amount of odd man rushes that they allowed While frustrated, the coach was confident, however, that the issue there was one that was "correctable."
"I think they’re hungry to prove that’s not them," Gadowsky said.
The Lions came out with their highest ranking ever in the USCHO top 20 poll this week, finishing 26th in the rankings when considering all votes.
While Gadowsky doesn’t look or hear anything about the rankings at all, his players are at least semi-familiar with the rankings released each week. Captain Patrick Koudys doesn’t seek out and read the rankings each week, but he has ears, and thus hears where the team is ranked when that wind inevitably blows through the locker room.
The defenseman believes that something like a national poll ranking does play a factor in perhaps improving the team’s confidence ahead of a big series, such as his own team’s this weekend against UMass Lowell.
"I don’t think [the team]] is necessarily saying ‘hey we’re ranked higher,’ but rather that they’re just more confident in our play and what we’re doing on the ice," Koudys said.
Their opponent this week, UMass Lowell, is ranked 4th in the country. Does playing such a highly ranked and respected program have any kind of an impact on game preparation?
"We don’t change the way we prepare for anyone," Skoff said. "We don’t ‘practice harder’ or anything like that –we’re trying to get better no matter who we’re playing, whether it’s Bentley, Holy Cross, or UMass Lowell."
Regardless of their opponents, their ranking, or their opponent’s rankings, the Lions won’t be thinking too far ahead. They know that their hands will be tied, to say the least, with the powerhouse known as UMass Lowell hockey.
"This weekend is the most important game so far," Skoff said. "We’re not looking at the Big Ten or anything like that. This weekend is what we’re focused on."
The Lions will be without forward David Glen and defenseman Connor Varley this week, as both were injured in the Halloween series with Bentley…. defenseman David Thompson will be making his return to the ice this weekend, however, after missing several games due to a cut he suffered on the team’s trip to Alaska.