Over the past few seasons, Penn State has developed an identity as a high-powered offensive team. Much of the Nittany Lions success in living up to that identity has stemmed from the team’s success in the faceoff circle.
Over the past few seasons, when the Lions have reached new heights in program success, they have finished well over 50 percent on draws. While the Lions retained some of their best faceoff men from last season, their success in the circle has drastically fallen off from 2016-17.
The Lions have dropped below 50 percent — 49.2 percent to be exact — on draws this season, and the frustration is growing among the coaching staff and players.
“It’s hard to score goals without the puck,” coach Guy Gadowsky said after Saturday’s 5-1 loss to Ohio State, during which the Lions lost the faceoff battle 37-23. “There is 60 plus faceoffs a night and if you start with possession on a majority of those you’re giving yourself a good chance. If you don’t, you put yourselves behind the eight ball and it’s a big problem we have to address.
“Honestly, I’m getting a little sick of it.”
Chase Berger, who has led the team in faceoff percentage each of his first two seasons, has fallen just below 50 percent this season. Nikita Pavlychev, who won an impressive 52 percent of his draws as a freshman, is hovering just above 50 percent in his sophomore year. Gadowsky does not have an explanation for why the Lions have failed to carry their success over from seasons prior.
“Last year we lead the nation in face-offs and we have approached it the same way,” he said Tuesday. “It is really difficult to figure out. It has been a real source of frustration for us.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, as Gadowsky’s squad went undefeated in 11 straight games before Saturday’s loss, it showed glimpses of its former self. In that 11-game span, each of the team’s regular centers went well over 50 percent on draws, allowing the Lions to rack up nearly five goals per game.
The lack of success on draws has been one of the primary reasons why the Lions haven’t lived up to their own expectations this season. The team has goals of making a run in the NCAA Tournament, but sits at 13-8-3 on the season.
“If you don’t start with possession it affects everything,” Gadowsky said. “If your chasing the puck you aren’t going to get as many shots and give up more. It’s an underrated part of successful hockey.”
Sturtz Honored by Hobey Baker Nomination
Monday afternoon, it was announced that Andrew Sturtz and Denis Smirnov had been nominated for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award for the second consecutive season. While the news quickly spread across the college hockey world, Sturtz didn’t find out until later in the day of the honor.
“Somebody texted me at like 3:30 [p.m.], and I was actually taking a nap, so I got it at like 5 [p.m.],” he said. “We had an off day yesterday, so I was taking a nap.
“It’s obviously a really cool thing for me and Denis to be nominated for something like that. It’s something you dream of as a kid. The work’s not done though.”
Midway through his junior season, Sturtz has already etched his name at or near the top of multiple Penn State records. His 51 goals as a Nittany Lion rank No. 1 all-time, as he surpassed Casey Bailey’s mark of 45 earlier this season, while his 94 career points rank second behind David Goodwin’s 128.
While the individual honor is humbling for Sturtz, he was quick to credit his teammates for his personal success and downplayed the importance of the award compared to what he hopes the team will accomplish.
“It means a lot. It’s the most prestigious award in college hockey. Obviously we’ve had a couple guys nominated in the past who are great players,” he said. “It doesn’t make us change our game. We’re not playing for Hobey Bakers, we’re playing for National Championships and Big Ten Championships.”
It’s become a weekly talking point, and each week, the answer is the same: Kevin Kerr’s status has been day-to-day for a while now. But there is some optimism for the Nittany Lions, as Gadowsky said Tuesday that the junior defenseman may return to the lineup this weekend against Michigan.
The plan for Kerr’s return to the lineup would be to line him up alongside his usual defense partner, Trevor Hamilton. When paired together this season, the duo has been dominant, combining for three goals and 12 points in just five games together. Hamilton, who has had a revolving door of defense partners much of the time Kerr has been out, would welcome Kerr back with open arms.defense partner, Trevor Hamilton.
“Obviously Kevin is one of our top defensemen and we’ve meshed together really well the past two years. Unfortunately, he’s been hurt for most of it,” Hamilton said. “I’m hoping he’s going to be in the lineup this weekend, and hopefully we can rekindle that chemistry we had early in the year.”
Gadowsky also mentioned that Alex Limoges, who missed Saturday’s 5-1 loss to Ohio State, will be back this weekend against the Wolverines. The freshman is tied for ninth in team scoring with 12 points playing on the left wing with fellow freshman Evan Barratt and sophomore Liam Folkes.