Penn State will always prefer high-scoring, up-tempo hockey. But for the Nittany Lions to make a run at a National Championship, they’re going to have to win while playing a style they aren’t as comfortable with.
Call it ugly hockey, defensive hockey, or whatever adjective you want. Finding success with low-scoring, find-a-way-to-win hockey is essential to a championship-caliber team.
Friday’s 3-1 win over Robert Morris showed Penn State that it can find success with that style, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.
“Obviously it was a goal of ours at the start of the season to improve defense, and there’s a number of parts of that. [Penalty kill] is one of them, shots on goal is another. If you look at tonight, there’s two pretty positive results there,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “Obviously, we don’t want to do it at the sacrifice of offense. Tonight we probably didn’t have the best offensive game but it’s really nice to see the defensive part.”
The Nittany Lions held the Colonials to 22 shots and were 3-for-3 on the penalty kill, including a 1:33 two-man advantage during the third period.
“It’s a huge momentum shift for everyone,” Biro said of the penalty kill. “It gets everyone up on the bench, especially at a time in the game like that.”
The Nittany Lions weren’t flawless on defense, giving up a few too many odd-man rushes, but Gadowsky was encouraged by what he saw on that side of the puck. The other side, the one for which the Nittany Lions have become famous, may be a different story.
Though they did put up 36 shots on Colonials’ goalie Justin Kapelmaster, the Nittany Lions looked out of sync for much of the first two periods.
“We’re searching a little bit. It’s not flowing for us yet,” Gadowsky said. “We have some work to do. I don’t know if it’s because we’re gripping it tight or we just haven’t found our flow.”
How It Happened
After a scoreless first period, Connor MacEachern broke the scoreless tie early in the second. On an offensive zone faceoff, MacEachern defelcted a Paul DeNaples point shot over the glove of Robert Morris goalie Justin Kapelmaster.
Just two minutes later, the Colonials leveled the game at one after a defensive miscue from the Nittany Lions. Grant Hebert was left alone in front of the net and buried a one timer past Peyton Jones.
With chances limited for both teams, the next goal had the feel that it would be the game winner. Nearly seven minutes into the third period, captain Brandon Biro wired a one timer off the post and in. The Nittany Lions survived a late push from the Colonials to hold on for the victory.