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Penn State Hockey: A Season With A Bit Of Everything, A Season The Nittany Lions Will Learn From

by on April 04, 2018 12:55 PM

For a good long while it looked as though Penn State hockey was going to miss the NCAA Tournament.

A large part of this is was the size of the field. 16 teams is among the smallest NCAA postseason pools in any sport. Couple that with a handful of automatic bids handed out during conference tournaments and the room for error is small. Good teams routinely are forced to sit at home and watch.

So some of this fact was out of Penn State's hands.

But the Nittany Lions also struggled to be themselves more than any other season prior. Usually near-unbeatable at home, Penn State gave up leads, made things harder than they needed to and at moments lacked the kind of "us against the world" mentality that could be attributed to the program's fast rise in the five years prior.

The postseason may not host dozens of teams, but the Nittany Lions certainly weren't making things easy on themselves, and seven losses in the first nine games did little to remedy early issues.

Nevertheless it was the final two weeks of the regular season that hit restart on those postseason hopes thanks to a win over Michigan State and then four straight wins over Minnesota. That would have been a difficult task in any year, and seemingly impossible in this particular one.

It was enough in the end to send Penn State to Allentown although just get thumped by Denver in the kind of game that exposed the Nittany Lions as a program still in the works and a team that had not quite figured things out to the extent it may have seemed.

The result is a mixed bag when it comes to digesting what exactly to make of Penn State hockey's season. The Nittany Lions shouldn't disregard back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, because in the end it doesn't matter how you make it, just that you do. The last time the Philadelphia Flyers made the Finals it was on the back of a shootout win in the final regular season game of the year to even make the playoffs. 

Also true, Penn State can boast wins over two Frozen Four teams and payed Notre Dame as close as anyone. Maybe some Big Ten familiarity to aid that fact, but quality results nevertheless.

"I remember saying last year that I learned more about coaching last year than I ever had. I think I might be ready to say it again about this year too." Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said earlier this week.

"We learned so much because of the start, and honestly I take the brunt of that, our start was not as good as it should have been and that's a mentality coaching. I bit off a lot more than I could chew by being seduced to "the Denver (postseason)" right away, that was wrong. I learned a big lesson there and I think we got back to it as the season was progressing and got to where we wanted to be in that last month but we should have been there a lot earlier. I know that I learned lessons to make sure that we do better at that in the future."

The answer to what to make of Penn State's season can probably be found somewhere in that quote. One of the things makes Penn State hockey entirely unique to the rest of its counterparts on campus; its genuine "newness."

There are no decades of history to lean back on and take data from. No instance where "this" was the answer to "that" problem. There is no rich history at the Division I level to sell to recruits on the road. It's a brand new path with no real answer to how long it should take to pave or how long it will end up taking.

There is a lot this program is still searching for in just about every area, in a Penn State universe that very much operates with the currency of "what have you done for me lately?" Penn State hockey might be the only program that can say "growing" and get an appreciative nod from season ticket holders. 

In short, it was a learning year, one that still yielded a result that shouldn't be taken for granted. 

Perfect? Far from it. But years down the road, the Nittany Lions will be a smarter program because of it.

"I think that now that we've done this twice, I think it's fair to wonder now how we're going to get better."



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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