The past two seasons have taught Penn State just how vital each game is throughout the season.
In 2017-18, they needed a strong final weekend of the regular season and opening round of the Big Ten Tournament to return to the show. Riding Evan Barratt’s breakout party, the Nittany Lions won four straight against Minnesota to return to the National Tournament.
Those Golden Gophers, meanwhile, missed the tournament by the most narrow of margins.
While those final few games carried the weight of the season on their shoulders, those do-or-die scenarios also taught Penn State to treat each game with the same urgency, regardless of who the opponent was or at what point in the season they were.
It’s something coach Guy Gadowsky has been trying to stress to his players, particularly the fresh faces in the locker room.
“The reason we do talk about it is the new guys that are incoming, they might not realize that,” he said Monday. “That’s part of what makes college hockey so fun.”
With just 34 regular season games to prove a team’s worth to the selection committee, no team can afford to leave points on the table, especially in games where it should be the clear favorite.
Of the Nittany Lions’ 13 regular season losses last season, four came against teams that finished the season unranked. The Golden Gophers, however, dropped just one game to a team that finished unranked.
While that stretch run was ultimately the difference for both team’s, either could have been in a much more comfortable position as the final days of the regular season approached.
“The games this weekend mean just as much now as they did in March,” Gadowsky said.
Max Sauvé Impressing
With a half-dozen new faces joining the team this season, a few have stood out early, at least in a figurative sense.
Aarne Talvitie made a name for himself in his native Finland, captaining the National Team and leading his junior league in goals.
Ludvig Larsson was able to showcase his talent at the collegiate level with Merrimack before arriving at Penn State as a graduate transfer.
Max Sauvé has stood out in a much more literal sense, however.
The freshman forward has impressed Gadowsky this season with his blazing speed. Sauvé broke the team’s lap speed mark prior to the season. While he already has the pace to keep up in college hockey, his understanding of the collegiate game is progressing at an equally impressive clip.
“I think he’s really come a long way playing with the guys he has already,” Gadowsky said of Sauvé. “I think his mind is really catching up to his feet.”
After Denis Smirnov exited the International Game against Brock on Saturday, Sauvé filled in alongside Talvitie and captain Chase Berger. While the trio did not produce any goals, it controlled possession and created a few quality opportunities. This was all while Sauvé played the final two periods of the game with an upper-body injury.
With an uncertain timetable for Smirnov’s injury, Sauvé could find time in the lineup early in his Penn State career and is poised to take full advantage of that opportunity.
Penn State may have been bitten by the injury bug early this season.
The Nittany Lions knew they would be starting the season without one of the top defensemen in Kevin Kerr. Now, they may also be without their most talented forward.
After being on the receiving end of a devastating hit in Saturday’s game against Brock, Denis Smirnov is day-to-day with what is almost certainly an upper-body injury. The junior was sent helicoptering to the ice and struggled to get back to the Penn State bench.
Kerr, meanwhile, is day-to-day as he continues to recover from a lower-body injury related to the one that forced him to miss much of the past two seasons.
Smirnov’s potential replacement alongside Chase Berger and Aarne Talvitie may also be forced to sit out the team’s first weekend series. Sauvé played the final two periods of the International Game with an upper-body injury, and is also considered day-to-day.