After an impressive weekend split against a highly skilled Team USA U-18 squad, the Penn State men’s ice hockey team (8-12-0) showed it is hindered by the lack of one important trait: mental toughness. The Lions suffered a major setback on Tuesday night when they lost 3-2 in overtime against Division III Neumann University at the Greenberg Ice Pavilion, a game most expected them to win easily.
Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky knows his team can't afford any more slow starts.
“I’ve seen it a hundred times,” said coach Guy Gadowsky. “Where, you do something that just pisses off the hockey gods, and you come back and do your best, but at the end they're gonna get you.”
Gadowsky was alluding to his team’s consistent slow starts.
Once again on Tuesday night Penn State fell behind early, when 20 seconds after the opening faceoff it gave up an easy doorstep goal to Neumann right wing Chris Bournazos, marking the 11th time in Penn State’s last 13 games that it has allowed the first goal.
“The hockey gods will never let you get away with that,” said Gadowsky. “If you’re just totally undisciplined and not prepared to play, you can’t just turn it on later. … It’s a mental toughness issue. We weren’t ready to play.”
Early in the second, Neumann extended its lead when defenseman D’Lane Sather took a shot off of a pass from deep in the left corner. The puck deflected off of a Penn State defenseman’s skate and into the back of the net.
The Lions finally turned things around on a power play with 10:14 left in the second, when freshman forward Casey Bailey unleashed a one-timer from the left circle. Then with 5:06 remaining in the frame, David Glen found freshman forward Kenny Brooks camped out on the left post for a tap-in goal.
The 2-2 tie held throughout the scoreless third period and into overtime. With 53 seconds left in the five minute sudden death frame, Jon Low scored on his own rebound to give Neumann the 3-2 victory.
This is not the first time this year that Penn State has underperformed and lost games it should have won. Earlier in the season, the Nittany Lions dropped two very winnable games against Air Force and Arizona State. The part that makes this tough to swallow for the Lions is that they have shown lots of promise when competing against college hockey’s elite. Wins against Team USA and Ohio State are perfect examples.
“I don’t know why, we have a real tendency to be as focused at the start of the game determined on how we feel our opponent is going to be.” said Gadowsky.
One Penn State player agrees with his coach.
“It’s about mental toughness and bearing down, and it’s something we’re lacking right now,” said Glen.
The Nittany Lions take to the ice again on Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center against Vermont (6-11-4), as part of the Philadelphia College Hockey Faceoff. If it’s any consolation to Penn State fans, the Lions, who tend to play to the level of their competition, play well in big games. Although it is not against a great opponent, it is being televised and played in an NHL arena. This Saturday’s game against Vermont is a big game for Penn State.
However, Gadowsky does not want to hear that noise. Before his team competes with the best in college hockey, he feels it needs to get over one giant hump: The Lions must bring their best effort every game and beat the teams they are supposed to.
“Everybody knows we were expected to do well this game. … That’s pressure," he said. "That’s mental toughness to be able to at the start of the game dictate how this is going to go, and we didn’t. … Absolutely we proved that we aren’t there yet.”