A disappointing start to Penn State’s season appears to be making a turn for the better. Although his team settled for a series split with Michigan last weekend, head coach Guy Gadowsky was pleased — perhaps for the first time all season — with the Nittany Lions performance.
Through the first few weekends of the season, Gadowsky felt his team had been straying away from the classic “Penn State Hockey” mentality of seasons past. Against the Wolverines, however, the sixth-year head coach finally saw his desired playing style, and hopes his squad will carry over that style as it hosts Mercyhurst on Friday and Saturday.
While the Nittany Lions rank fifth in the nation in shots on goal, they hit the 40-shot mark just once during their first six games of the season, pumping 47 shots on net during a 7-5 win over American International College. The team’s “Penn State Hockey” identity was finally unveiled against the Wolverines, as the Lions averaged 49 shots in the two-game series, including a 54-shot outburst in Friday’s 5-4 overtime win.
Gadowsky admitted to having difficulty instilling the team’s identity early this season.
“We came into this year thinking of ourselves differently than we have in the past. In the past, it was a lot easier to focus on the main foundation of the program — work ethic, commitment, those things,” he said Monday. “Then once you build that, you move onto maybe the more skill-type aspects of how we play. This year, it seemed that we were all really concerned — and I’ll take full fault for that — we were maybe a little concerned about the skill aspects of how we play and not as much the foundation.”
The Nittany Lions and Lakers have met just once — a 7-0 drubbing by the Lions in Erie last season — in Penn State’s six years as a Division-I program. The win kicked off the Lions’ program-record 13-game unbeaten streak.
The goalie of record for the Lakers, Brandon Wildung, has put together an impressive season to this point. The senior netminder has started all six games for the Lakers, posting a 2-2-2 record. Wildung also ranks 12th in save percentage at .933 and 22nd in goals-against average at 2.13, both significantly better than last season’s marks of .908 and 3.08, respectively.
The Lakers are led offensively by defenseman Lester Lancaster. The junior rear guard has six points in six games, including a team-leading five assists. Taylor Best and Matthew Whittaker lead the Lakers with three goals apiece.
Special teams may become the deciding factor during the weekend. The Lakers have scored 11 of their 16 goals this season on the man advantage, leading to the fourth ranked power play in the nation at 32.4 percent. The Lions have not had the same kind of success killing off penalties, ranking 33rd in the nation at 80.8 percent.