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Penn State Hockey: Nittany Lions Confident Heading Out Of Break

by on December 26, 2013 6:00 AM

There is a very distinct sound that a single blade makes as it cuts across a fresh sheet of ice. A crisp slicing noise as the ice flakes off of the surface of the rink and powders into the air.

As Penn State goaltender Matthew Skoff skated on the ice alone before practice a few weeks ago he made that same sound with his skates. A few shuffles to the left, a few to the right as he worked on his movement in the crease. His teammates eventually joined him and a Tuesday practice got started inside Pegula Ice Arena like it has so many times already this year. A team always working to live up the billing of its own home arena.

Currently the Nittany Lions sit at 3-9-1 on the year, a mark that is hard to applaud but yet impossible to completely criticize. The program entered the Division I level last season but played a mixture of Division I, III and club level teams. For as official as the 2012-13 season was, Penn State truly has only begun to play Division I hockey this year.

So the success that the program has is measured in a different light. Losing is never acceptable. Head coach Guy Gadowsky isn't going to ever say losing is fine, but the goals and benchmarks for the program are a growing foundation to being able to win down the road. Simply put wins are not always a measurement of improvement or success on any given night for a program in Penn State's position. The team has no veteran Division I players, no players who have won at a high level more often than not. There isn't any doubt the Nittany Lions are talented, but each night is a new experience.

But it's what they all signed up for.

Talking to over a third of the team, not a single player showed regret over the opening weeks of the season. Just excitement, drive, and a focus to take the program to the next level. 

In many ways it makes this team one of the most interested on Penn State's campus. Talented hockey players, with offers to other schools, took a chance on Penn State with the complete willingness to face whatever came with the first few season at Penn State. Nothing was guaranteed except hard work.

"It's really one of the things that brought me here," Freshman goaltender and Islanders' draft pick Eamon McAdam said after practice earlier this year. "To be a part of the start of this program."

"It really is an honor," Skoff said, echoing his freshman understudy. "To pave the way for this program to be even better in the future, even after we're gone."

But even with the positive attitude and thinking, a month of losing can take its toll on a team. Hard work not paying off, each night another ranked opponent coming off tournament appearances. It's what makes the program stronger in the long run, but in the present time it can be a tough pill to swallow each night.

Coming off of a 5-4 loss to Wisconsin though, Penn State is probably as upbeat as the program has ever been with players and coaches agreeing that even in defeat it was the team's best game of the year. Things finally started to click.

"It was getting really frustrating and I know the coaches were a little frustrated," Captain Tommy Olczyk said, Penn State having lost five games by a single goal this year. "But I think we started to get a glimpse of our identity against Wisconsin in that second game. It's really fun to play in those games and to look at the guy next to you and to know that he's going to do the little things to give you a chance to win, and to know that your linemates will do the little things. A game like that does wonders for team confidence and team morale."

So now with two games in the coming week facing the Nittany Lions after time off, Olczyk and his teammates will get a chance to forget about a month of finding themselves and focus on the future. The season isn't reset, but there is a new sense of positive energy around the program moving forward.

"We're going to make mistakes and we aren't going to win every game from here on out," Olczyk said. "But we want to put together 60 minutes of hockey and we feel like we have a better idea of how we're going to do that now." 

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