By: Sean Flanery, GoPSUsports.com Student
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - This past weekend the Nittany Lions held strong for five of the six periods of hockey, but eventually dropped a pair of decisions against Syracuse at the Tennity Ice Pavilion.
Penn State (7-16-1) proved this past weekend that it has come a long way since being defeated by the Orange (14-11-1) at home in early October. The first time around the Orange shutout the Lions in a two game series, however, that was a far different Nittany Lion team.
This evolving Penn State team has a certain level of confidence that is now prevalent in every game they play. That attitude took to the ice versus Syracuse on Friday and Saturday and made notable strides, falling by scores of 1-0 and 4-1, respectively.
"We are definitely a more experienced team now than we are at the beginning of the season," said senior defenseman Lindsay Reihl. "We are working really hard and improving. We are really just worrying about playing our game and everything else is out of our control. Our defense looked great all weekend, so we are really getting it down now and it's showing on the scoreboard and in our overall game."
The Lions newfound confidence is definitely showing. They have only lost one game by two goals or more since an early December loss versus Mercyhurst, which came on Saturday versus Syracuse.
Defensively the Lions have maintained their confidence late into games even when falling behind early. In game two of this past weekend, the Lions fell behind 3-0 in the first 12 minutes of action, but did not crumble. Penn State held Syracuse scoreless nearly the rest of the way until an empty net goal at the end of the third period.
"Defensively we played two great games," Reihl said. "Our defense was strong, both Nicole [Paniccia] and Celine [Whitlinger] were strong in net and that always helps. We went [to Syracuse] and were confident because we'd seen the team before. We have been improving all season, so it was great to come out and have two very close games. Even though we didn't get the win it was great that we were able to have two very close games and played better this time against them."
Penn State's progress defensively this season has been apparent since returning from the break in early January. Since their return, in the Lions' four losses, three of them have been decided by only one goal. Prior to this newfound defensive effort, Penn State had only one loss by one goal.
As the team's defensive effort keeps improving from game-to-game, so does the overall play of the team. The improvements are coming just at the right time, just in time. The College Hockey America tournament is a little over a month away and PSU will have opportunities to move up in the standings during the final four weeks of the season.
The Nittany Lions will look to keep improving upon their recent confidence as they begin a five-game home stand this Tuesday night. Penn State will host Princeton University (6-12-2) midweek test at Greenberg Ice Pavilion with the puck set to drop at 7 p.m.