After winning its first NCAA Tournament game last season, Penn State is trying to avoid losing something just as important.
That validation of the program's legitimacy just five years after its birth, combined with the continued influx of highly talented recruits, seems to have made the collective chip on the Nittany Lions’ shoulders a little less profound early on in 2017-18.
In Penn State’s first regular season game against Clarkson last weekend, it was evident to coach Guy Gadowsky that the Nittany Lions lacked the type of edge he had grown accustomed to seeing.
“To be honest, I’m not thrilled with that level yet,” he said. “Certainly, Friday night it was not close to what we need. It was better Saturday, but that’s something that we have to keep our thumb on.”
The Nittany Lions came out of the gate flat against the Golden Knights on Friday. A sloppy turnover in their defensive zone allowed Clarkson to score an easy goal 14 seconds into the game that turned out to be the difference in the contest.
On Saturday, Penn State’s Kris Myllari scored just nine minutes into the game to ensure the Nittany Lions didn’t suffer a similar fate.
Regardless, Gadowsky is still concerned about his team’s tenacity.
“We never taught it,” he said. “It was something that I think guys just wanted to prove that they belonged in the Big Ten, and that was pretty intrinsic motivation that we didn’t have to teach or talk about. One of our fears coming in this year is that level of intensity... I think that’s a big reason why we had success”
A portion of that mindset change comes down to the fact that Gadowsky’s roster is becoming increasingly composed of a different kind of player compared to those emotional leaders behind Penn State’s breakout season.
Gone are players like Ricky DeRosa, who did little to stuff the stat sheet, but had an immeasurable effect on the outcome of games through his ability to lead, according to Gadowsky.
Filling his shoes are freshman such as Cole Hults and Evan Barratt, both of whom were selected in the NHL Draft over the summer. Sophomore Denis Smirnov was also selected, joining previous draftees Brett Murray and Nikita Pavlychev to make five on the current Penn State roster.
The talent the Nittany Lions can put on the ice at any time is greater than it has ever been, but for Gadowsky, the intensity has to come from someone.
“I think that we’ve always found that in guys like Chase Berger and Andrew Sturtz,” Gadowsky said. “And our hope is that, as they continue to pile up statistics and people see their value as something else, that they always remember that their attitude is what really brought us along.”
Captain James Robinson said that while he understands that players are still settling into their roles early on in the season, the need for urgency is clear.
“We didn’t win a national championship last year,” he said, “so we need to change something.”