White GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - A flip of the calendar brings a fresh start, a new year. Junior defenseman Nate Jensen (Shorewood, Minn.) has already made a few New Year's resolutions for himself and the Penn State hockey team.
"My resolution is I want to try and stay healthy and to be in game shape every game," Jensen said. "As for a resolution for our team, we need to keep the energy and momentum going for the rest of the season."
Coming off a monumental victory against Ohio State in the Three River Classic, the Nittany Lions (8-9-0) open the 2013 calendar year with a visit to Storrs, Conn. to tangle with the Connecticut Huskies (5-8-2).
Carrying the momentum and intensity from the Ohio State game is crucial to a successful road trip. The Nittany Lions learned a few things from the Ohio State matchup that they want to apply against Connecticut.
"We're trying to build off the win," Jensen said. "We want to try to limit the opponent's odd-man rushes, we want to get pucks deep and keep doing the little things going into this series."
One of the many bright spots from the Ohio State game was the offensive explosion from the line of Casey Bailey (Anchorage, Alaska), Max Gardiner (Deephaven, Minn) and Taylor Holstrom (Yorba Linda, Calif.). Bailey recorded a career-high four points, Holstrom scored two-goals and Gardiner added three assists. Bailey is now tied for the team lead with eight goals and Gardiner leads the team with 10 assists entering 2013.
"That line is really helping us out offensively right now with Holstrom at center," said Jensen. "He had a great game setting (Bailey and Gardiner) up and making good plays. They did a great job for our team and hopefully they can keep that up."
Coach Guy Gadowsky put extra emphasis on driving the middle of the ice on the fore check this week and he wants his team to force the opposing defense to turn earlier and thinks that can create more offense for his team.
One area that Penn State hopes will improve in 2013 is the power play. The power play has scored just six goals on 68 opportunities, but began to show some signs of life late in 2012. The importance of success with the man advantage is simple for Penn State. The Nittany Lions are 6-0 this season when they score a power play goal, but are 2-8 when not tallying a goal with the advantage.
As the season progresses, Penn State will need to be able to rely on the power play to produce more offense and Jensen will have a lot to do with that. He serves as a quarterback of the Nittany Lion power play. His smooth stride and great on-ice vision leads to easier entries into the offensive zone. He is tied for fifth on the team in scoring with two goals and six assists and expects success as the chemistry of the unit continues to improve.
"Coach wants us to be creative on the power play right now," Jensen said. "We are getting more comfortable with the guys we are out there with. We want to create a little bit more offense and momentum on the power play."
On the other end of the ice, the penalty killing unit has continued to be a strong point for the Nittany Lions. Penn State continues to be one of the most penalized teams in the NCAA, but remain strong as a penalty killing unit. The team has killed off 55 of 63 power plays in its last 11 games.
Jensen played his freshmen season at Mercyhurst of the Atlantic Hockey Association and is familiar with Connecticut's playing style.
"Each team has their own identity in this conference," Jensen said. "Connecticut has some skilled guys up front. They are a hard working team and tough to play against."
Penn State and Connecticut both play with a hard working style of hockey. The teams have very similar numbers on the stat sheet. Penn State has a bit of an advantage in goal column, averaging 2.8 goals per game to the Huskies 1.8 average, while Connecticut has a slight advantage in goals allowed per game (2.6 goals allowed to Penn State's 2.9). Nonetheless, Jensen expects the Nittany Lions to stick to their hard working style and let the game come to them.
"We're trying to stick to our game plan," said Jensen, "the game plan that we've had all year. We want to create offense from getting the puck deep and crashing the net hard."
The Nittany Lions will take that game plan into their matchup with the Huskies on Friday at 7:05 p.m. at the Freitas Ice Forum in Storrs, Conn.