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Penn State Hockey: A 6-3 Loss The Lesson Of Building, Not Failing

by on January 30, 2016 11:23 PM

Madison Square Garden, New York.

For nearly 40 minutes Penn State hockey gave the No. 6 ranked team in the nation all it could handle and in turn the Nittany Lions had a 3-2 lead to show for their efforts.

None of this at face value is overly surprising. Penn State has, even in its short time as Division I program, given nearly every team it plays a battle. The Nittany Lions have never been an easy win, in fact, during the first season of Division I play an opposing head coach said he was simply happy to play Penn State now "when we still have a chance."

Those days for the most part are long gone. The Nittany Lions are 16-7-3 and have earned that record with smart hockey and an aggressive offensive attack backed by solid goalkeeping. To a certain extent Penn State's record is the result of a schedule loaded with home games early in the year and opponents not at the top of the list of the nation's best. Nevertheless it's not the fault of the team that it beats its opponents. Bad teams rarely win, good teams win more often than not. The same can be said for Penn State.

But a game lasts 60 minutes, not 40.

In the early going Penn State looked like a team that had learned from its mistakes just two nights earlier. The Nittany Lions defended well, kept Michigan's top line in check and created decent looks on goal. Even so Alex Kile's tally with 14:55 gone by in the opening frame gave the Wolverines a late first period lead.

With Michigan set to take that lead into the break, Vince Pedrie found David Goodwin in front of goal and Goodwin directed the puck past netminder Steve Racine to tie the game with 40.7 to play in the period.

The celebration was short lived in the box score as just 15 seconds into the second stanza, JT Compher pounced on a turnover and worked his way down the ice en route to a shorthanded tally and a 2-1 Michigan lead. Just under two minutes later Andrew Sturtz picked up his 13 goal of the year on the power play to once again answer a Michigan score.

Ricky DeRosa's slap towards Racine 2:56 later gave Penn State a 3-2 margin just 4:57 into the second period, a mark that would hold until the intermission.

After the game Goodwin's face would tell the tale. Penn State had in large part taken the Wolverines to task in the middle 20 minutes of play. Offensive chances, limited mistakes on defense and a 3-2 lead to call their own after 2/3rds of the game had been completed. His glazed over look said that and more. It was a game to be won, and it was a game that was lost.

The third period was a different animal. A Michigan team loaded with talent, endurance and the experience to turn the tide used all three to just do that. Three straight offensive zone faceoff wins pinned Penn State deep in the defensive zone and Cristobal Nieves found an open net just 2:19 into the period to tie the game.

Eight minutes later Justin Selman did the same. Four minutes after that Tyler Motte made it a 5-3 mark. Motte's empty net goal giving the game its final score. It was as overly as quickly as the period began.

On paper Penn State was a team outworked in those final 20 minutes. Outshot 22-11 and outscored 4-0, the Nittany Lions never got their skates going in the right direction. Michigan was a team that knew what it took to win because it was a team that had faced these challenges before. Momentums is a deadly weapon in the hands of the right team.

Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky would say after the game that he was proud of his team, and without a doubt the Nittany Lions played a better game than they did on Thursday.

Asked what will need to be done differently when Penn State travels to face Michigan on the road later in the season.

"Nothing," Gadowsky said. "We just have to do the same things better."

And that's really what Penn State hockey is right now. A program doing the right things the right way, but not quite good enough and not quite consistent enough. It takes time, it takes experience and it takes talent mixed in with both of those things.

The Nittany Lions are well on there way towards being the team Michigan is, and they will undoubtedly get there sooner or later.

So no, the Nittany Lions didn't choke on Saturday and a brutal final slate of games won't determine the value of this season.

Penn State is simply building and that takes lessons learned and experiences, both good and bad.

And on Saturday night, it was a lesson that for all the good the program has done in such a short amount of time, there is still work left to do.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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Penn State Basketball: Comeback Falls Short As Nittany Lions Fall 79-72 To Michigan
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