By Pat White, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.--Coming off of a 6-1 victory against ACHA opponent Ohio (22-6-3) at the GIANT Center on Friday night, the Nittany Lions (10-13) had to grind out a 5-3 win against the Bobcats on Saturday.
Freshman forward Curtis Loik (North Vancouver, B.C.) provided some late game heroics for the Nittany Lions, netting the game-winning goal with 4:54 remaining in the game to give the Lions a 4-3 lead. He finished the game with one goal and a plus-one rating while on the ice.
Loik found himself back on a line with fellow freshmen David Glen (Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.) and Kenny Brooks (Las Vegas, Nev.). It was the first time that head coach Guy Gadowsky has played the three forwards together since Jan. 12 against the USA U18 National Team. Junior Justin Kirchhevel (Brookings, S.D.) had been playing with Glen and Brooks for the last five games.
"I think they fit really well together," Gadowsky said about Loik's line with Glen and Brooks. "It didn't take them long to get synergy together when we put them together off the hop this season. I don't think it took them long [tonight]."
Loik's stats against Ohio don't jump off the score sheet, but the freshman played his usual grinding role. Players who work hard on the dirty areas are often rewarded and Loik was rewarded with the game-winner on Saturday. He picked up the puck off an offensive zone faceoff win by Glen and saw his initial shot from the right circle stopped by Ohio goaltender Fedor Dushkin, but followed his own shot and snuck a wrap-around shot inside the post for the goal.
"It was a great play by Loik to get the puck on net from a bad angle and jump on the rebound," Gadowsky said. "I'm real glad he was in the lineup tonight."
Aside from scoring the goal, Loik played very well in all three zones. His ability to work the puck along the boards and win battles in the corners opens up space for Brooks and Glen to cycle in the offensive zone. When the three forwards are cycling the puck well, they wear down the defense and sustain offensive pressure for extended periods of time.
Coaches love forwards that they can put out in every scenario during a game. Loik and sophomore Tommy Olczyk (Long Grove, Ill.) work together on the penalty killing unit that contained Ohio's power play to one goal on four opportunities and only allowed five shots.
Loik's work on the penalty kill doesn't garner a lot of attention, but it should. He is hardly ever out of position and makes the small plays like getting the puck deep that are important to win hockey games. He also keeps his shifts short and doesn't get caught on long shifts that may lead to a mental lapse that allows a goal.
"He's a great penalty killer," said Gadowsky, "he's a horse and he protects the puck really well. I don't think he had his best game, but obviously he scored a huge goal."
Loik missed games against Neumann and Vermont before returning to the lineup on last Friday at Michigan State. The freshman is fourth on the team in goals with five, while also dishing out four assists, and is a plus-five on the season. His return to the lineup was welcomed by his teammates.
"[Loik's] a great player and I know he was out with some injuries," senior George Saad said. "He's someone you can throw right back in the lineup and he's up to speed again. He's definitely someone that [the forwards] need to get goals like the big one he had tonight."