White GoPSUsports.com Student Staff
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Coach Guy Gadowsky knew this season would be about adapting to Division I hockey and building the foundation for the future. With so many new faces on the team, finding good line chemistry can be a process of trial and error.
Assembling lines is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece has its place within the puzzle with other pieces that fit around it. Some pieces are obvious fits, and others take time to find the appropriate place in the puzzle.
Freshmen David Glen (Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta), Kenny Brooks (Las Vegas, Nev.) and Curtis Loik (North Vancouver, British Columbia) were able to find synergy as a unit from day one. They made up one portion of the puzzle that Gadowsky could leave untouched.
Gadowsky may have found another big portion of the puzzle at the midway point of the season. The pieces were there all along, but he needed to turn them a different way for them to fit.
Casey Bailey (Anchorage, Alaska), Max Gardiner (Deephaven, Minn.) and Taylor Holstrom (Yorba Linda, Calif.) played together earlier in the season, but are now hitting their stride in the second half of the season.
Gardiner centered the line when they previously played together, moving Holstrom out of his natural center position. Gadowsky has since moved Holstrom back to center and the move has paid off. They have combined for six goals, nine assists and are a plus-seven in the last three games.
"They've been our best line," Gadowsky said. "Taylor has been working extremely hard. We've been putting him in a few different places. He's a natural center man and we finally put him in the middle and Max on the wall. Max has been playing awesome on the wall. He's a big guy; he handles himself really well on the wall...we made two adjustments that have been positives."
Holstrom admitted that he had a rough start to the season. He is glad to be back at center, a position he knows better and allows him to go out and play his game.
"I struggled at the beginning of the year, but now the puck is bouncing my way," Holstrom said. "I have more confidence and the monkey is off my back so to say. Things are coming a little bit easier."
Gadowsky said that Holstrom never took a wait-and-see approach to his game. While some players may become complacent amid a slump, Holstrom kept plugging away.
"I give Taylor a lot of credit because he was in a funk," Gadowsky said. "He was getting chances and wasn't really scoring. He continued to work really hard at his game. When guys do that, they come out of (that funk) in a big way."
Gardiner said that all three forwards came back recharged after the holiday break. He embraced the move to the wing--having played both positions in high school--so that Holstrom could return to the middle. Gardiner recognizes Holstom's speed and tenacity has elevated the play the whole line.
"Taylor has it going now," Gardiner said. "He's been one of our best players since the break and he's helped us out a lot. We're playing with confidence and swagger which is a good thing."
Each forward brings something different to the table. Gadowsky describes Bailey as a natural offensive goal scorer. Bailey is tied for the team lead in goals with nine, and is second in shots with 76. He started his offensive outburst against Ohio State, tallying two goals and two assists and has six points in his last three contests. He is often the benefactor of the playmaking abilities of Gardiner and Holstrom.
Gardiner made a flawless transition to the wing and works hard in the corners and along the boards with his big, 6-foot-3 frame. Working along the outside has allows the St. Louis Blues draft pick to use his great vision and passing ability to find his teammates. Gardiner leads the Nittany Lions with 12 assists and has dished out five helpers in the last three games.
Holstrom is only 5-foot-9, but is the big playmaker between the two 6-foot-3 wingers. He scores his fair share of goals, but Gadowsky sees him as more of a setup man. Opposing defenders often lose him in the offensive zone because of his size, speed and creativity.
Holstrom's coming out party started against Ohio State with two goals, and he followed that with a goal and an assist in two games against Connecticut last weekend.
"I think we're getting a lot more pucks to the net," Bailey said. "We are complimenting each other really well and it's easier to create offense."
Aside from their offensive skill, the unit is also responsible in all three zones. Gadowsky has praised the back checking efforts of Bailey and Gardiner all season. Both Gardiner and Holstrom are adept in the faceoff circle and have split duties on draws. Gardiner takes faceoffs on his stronger side, the left, and Holstrom the right.
"I think we're gaining some chemistry," Bailey said. "We've had a good start here to the second half. We have a lot of confidence and its turning into goals and offense."
If this line continues to excel on the ice, Gadowsky may have solved half of the puzzle. The picture is becoming clearer with each passing game.