Renahan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Penn State men's hockey team entered the Three Rivers Classic after a 20 day lay-off from competition, but were coming off what head coach Guy Gadowsky called their "best game of the season" against Wisconsin, the Nittany Lions were anxious to see how the layoff would affect the team.
Penn State answered the call and came out firing on Friday night vs. Robert Morris and showed it had built off a solid performance against the Badgers.
Heading into the Three Rivers Classic, the improvement of play in all phases of the game had become more and more noticeable. The team was playing much more effective hockey and their head coach was pleased.
On Friday night, in front of a crowd of 8,533, Penn State hit the ice with fresh legs and skated to a 3-2 win over Robert Morris.
It was the second time the Nittany Lions and Colonials had squared off this season, with Penn State winning both times. The game was also an opportunity for Gadowsky to gauge how far his team had come since their 5-4 win back on Nov. 1.
Penn State registered a season-high 62 shots in the game, including a program-best 27 shots in the second stanza, on Friday night. Despite the dominant shooting performance, they still found themselves trailing Robert Morris, 2-1, after 40 minutes.
During the third period, however, the Nittany Lions responded and earned the victory. It was the first time they have won a game when trailing after two periods in 2013-14.
Compared to the first matchup between these two teams, the Nittany Lions are trending in the right direction. After allowing the Colonials to take 52 shots on Nov. 1, Penn State's blue liners limited their in-state rival to just 28 shots at the Three Rivers Classic. Eric Scheid scored a late tally and Matt Skoff kept the Lions in the game in front of his hometown crowd to earn the win.
These are the type of games Gadowsky has been looking for out of his team. They played a full 60 minutes and put themselves in a position to play for the tournament champions the next night agaisnt No. 7 Boston College.
The Golden Eagles boast one of the best offenses in the NCAA and presented an excellent opportunity for a young Penn State squad.
The Nittany Lions struck first in Saturday's game and brought a swift wind of optimism to the Penn State faithful in the crowd and their Bench Boss.
"I felt very good about how we were playing early in the game," said Gadowsky. "We were playing our game and [I was] very optimistic. I felt good about it, but was looking to see if we could sustain it. You have to give a lot of credit to Boston College. I don't think we ever took our foot off the gas, but I think we got a little bit tentative when they started to score."
Boston College is the highest-ranked team Penn State has played in program history and despite the 8-2 defeat, the Nittany Lions took away the kind of lessons a program in its infancy needs to learn.
"We certainly had the information given to us that you have to be mentally tough," Gadowsky said after Saturday night's game. "To compete consistently with a team like [Boston College], you really have to have a short memory and continue to play your game."
This team continues to advance as a program night after night. Last season, Penn State beat Ohio State in a consolation game at the Three Rivers Classic. This year, they finished second.
Although it might be just a small step, it's an important one.
Building off this weekend is going to be necessary as the team faces a very challenging schedule, starting with a two-game series against Big Ten rival and top-ranked Minnesota.
"We're very fortunate to play ranked opponents on a consistent basis," said Gadowsky. "In our first year, we played our fair share of Division I games, but certainly not against the caliber that we have seen and will see this year. I think it's self-motivating and we like the challenge.
"The more experience we can have against top ranked competition is only going to help us in the future."
The Nittany Lions will see a host of nationally ranked squads as they enter the heart of their Big Ten schedule, starting on Jan. 12 vs. No. 1 Minnesota at Pegula Ice Arena.