Nothing’s ever easy. For Penn State hockey fans that were hoping for a repeat of last season or better, it has been a bit of a roller coaster ride in the early-going. Yet the roller coaster is on track to meet or exceed any goals the team or fans may have had at the start of the season.
The team has already been through the adversity of a goalie slump, an injury to the best scoring threat and is now playing without two of the top-four defenders. Erik Autio is out with injury but it appears that he will return after this weekend and the long break that follows. Penn State will not play another game until January 5 when it hosts Wisconsin to kick off the second half of the season after Saturday.
And yet here Guy Gadowsky and his team are, sitting in second place in the Big Ten heading into the weekend. The Lions will play Robert Morris in a split series on Friday night in Pittsburgh and Saturday night in State College, which will have no impact on the B1G standings. It will, however, have an impact on the PairWise Rankings.
The Lions sit in the 13th spot in the PairWise Rankings and this series with Robert Morris will be the last time the team plays an opponent that is likely to finish in the bottom-third of the rankings. Earlier in the year PSU lost to American International, in overtime, and it remains the worst loss in terms of the PairWise that the team has had this year. When the team dropped one to Mercyhurst it appeared to be stain on the record but in retrospect, Mercyhurst is having a solid season and sits at 31 in the PairWise Rankings.
So the team is back on track, in a good spot in-conference and in the PairWise Rankings, with two games left before it gets a chance to regroup. With a 9-7-2 overall record and 4-0-2 over the past six games, a split this weekend would be fine but a sweep would continue the momentum the team has recently built.
Kevin Kerr missed all but a handful of games this year and is now out with a broken wrist. Kerr was able to play a portion of the game last week with the broken wrist, and it is uncertain what the timetable will be for his return. Erik Autio has been out for the past couple of weeks but he is expected to return.
In the meantime, that leaves just seven defensive players on the roster. That means all hands will be on deck this weekend. Cole Hults, Kris Myllari, James Gobetz, Trevor Hamilton, Derian Hamilton, Alex Stevens, and Adam Pilewicz are the options for Gadowsky. Alex Stevens has played five games this year, all recently, and he appears ready to continue to contribute in a productive manner. Pilewicz has only played two games and is likely the 7th option for the team who will need six on the ice.
While the loss of Kerr and Autio is devastating to the team it has also been an opportunity for other players to gain crucial experience. Derian Hamilton has benefited from seeing regular playing time this year and he has made noticeable improvements just during the season. Alex Stevens has had time to shake off the rust in the past few weeks after sitting out the season before that. Stevens played the past five games after sitting out with an injury in the previous thirteen.
It will be important for the younger players, now seasoned and ready to go, to show what they can bring to the table with the absence of two upperclassmen blue liners on the mend.
Scouting Robert Morris
While it is early, it is becoming clear that RMU is having a down season. The team is 5-9-1 and the wins have come versus the lower-end of the PairWise Rankings. With three players on the team that scored 15 or more goals last season, there is an offensive punch on the ice to be respected. But if the Lions assert themselves, this should be a chance to get two more wins before the break. If the series is split, it will be a bit of a letdown for Penn State.