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Penn State Hockey: Nittany Lions Claw Back, but Fall Late 4-2 to Notre Dame

by on February 01, 2020 9:50 PM

It's so loud inside the Pegula Ice Arena media room that it's hard to hear Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky talk.

But it's not the crowd. Fans are already headed home, quiet and downtrodden, the Nittany Lions coming out on the wrong end of a 4-2 loss to Notre Dame on Saturday night. The noise is coming from the Irish themselves, stretching in the hallway, chanting and cheering, enjoying a 2-2 third period tie turned victory.

The good news for any reporters trying to hear Gadowsky is that he doesn't have much to say. It's not that he doesn't want to talk, there's just no good answer, no politically correct way to find the words to answer or define Penn State's problems. What happened to the offense? Why is a roster full of talent struggling to score? Why can't the Nittany Lions come out strong in front of the largest crowd in the arena's history?

Gadowsky isn't sure, not a sign of being unqualified to fix these issues, but rather an indication of how hard they are to truly pinpoint.

Take for example Notre Dame's first goal, a weird shorthanded opportunity as the puck floated between now-healthy captain Brandon Biro and goalie Peyton Jones. Neither player raced to the puck and the result was a turnover, a shot and a leaky five-hole. 

That's not scheme, it's not talent. It's preventable, but it's random.

Then it was another Irish goal, a 2-0 deficit in front of a crowd that wanted something to cheer for and came away with another headache. Penn State has won a single Big Ten game in six tries since the year changed. It has hit the post in two different overtime games, it hit the post in the third period of this game after clawing back to tie it at 2-2. There have been bad breaks and uncontrollable situations going against Penn State.

But as a a pass from deep within the Notre Dame zone caught Penn State sleeping and created a breakaway goal with five minutes remaining in regulation, that was a miscue. For every bad bounce there has been a bad pass, for every bad stroke of luck a missed opportunity. Bad luck is part of the game, but good teams overcome it, and in a sense, good teams play in a way where the bad luck shows up less often.

The result has been inconsistent play from everyone not named Peyton Jones. The Nittany Lions show bursts of brilliance but are seemingly unable to create those moments at will. Penn State was at its best on Friday and Saturday night after scoring, the problem was the flat-footed play that put the Nittany Lions behind the eight ball in the first place. It becomes a chicken and the egg.

"Leadership is always the thing that helps build our culture, you know because I can talk as much as I want, but they're the ones in the room," Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said after the game. "They are the ones that you know make sure guys are accountable and responsible and, you know, I give all the credit to our seniors and our leadership group."

Is it leadership? Perhaps, but so many of these Nittany Lions have stepped up in big moments. Is it a lack of commitment? Penn State is a much better defensive team than it has ever been, a change that wouldn't come without cross-roster dedication to that change.

So it's fitting that Gadowsky was short with his answers, a little befuddled by the current state of affairs. The Nittany Lions are struggling unlike they ever really have before, and yet they find themselves tied for the Big Ten lead with six games to play. They've left points on the ice, goals on their sticks and mistakes on the film, and yet here they are, all the same.

Of course the nice thing about sports is that the games sort all of these things out. The Nittany Lions will travel to Columbus next weekend for a series that all dictate much of the final two weeks of the regular season.

So the answers will come eventually, the question now is if Penn State can answer and solve them on their own, or if they're going to let opponents do it for them.

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