By Erin Neri, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's hockey split its opening series at home against American International College this past weekend. While winning the first game of the series 7-5 Thursday night, the Nittany Lions dropped a 3-2 overtime loss Friday night.
While the team did have an extra day to recover from the weekend, Coach Guy Gadowsky noted Penn State will be working hard in practice this week to continue the process of finding its identity this year.
"We have to get back to doing what we do very well," Gadowsky said. "It's not easy to play the way we play, it's actually very difficult and very taxing, but we have to get back to it."
For Gadowsky, it's a gradual process though, something that isn't solved with just a flick of a switch.
"You have to work on it, you have to stress it and the biggest thing is you have to buy in," Gadowsky said. "Not only when the coaches are there, what happens when we leave the locker room. That's what's important."
There were some flashes of progress during the weekend's home opening series though, starting with a few newcomers. Freshman defenseman Cole Hults stepped up, named Thursday night's second star of the game. Hults scored in back-to-back outings for the Nittany Lions, registering a power-play goal to start the Nittany Lions' opening period of Friday night's matchup to close out the weekend extending his four-game point streak.
"Cole is a great skater and a great shot as you've seen, but he has great offensive instincts," sophomore defenseman Kris Myllari said. "He's been a great compliment with Erik (Autio) and that's been huge for our d-core."
Drawing on the positives of the weekend, junior goaltender Chris Funkey also made his first start of the year Friday night, making 21 saves.
"Funkey played because he's an excellent goaltender," Gadowsky said. "He deserves to play, he's earned that and we want him to play."
For Gadowsky though, among his skillset, Funkey is the type of Nittany Lion who brings tremendous value and leadership in other critical areas for the team, not just on the ice.
"He's such a positive guy and such a good team guy who's not going to let one goal or one loss bring him down," senior captain James Robinson said.
Looking ahead, the Nittany Lions will play Michigan this weekend, under the direction of a new head coach for the first time in more than 30 years with Mel Pearson guiding the Wolverines. Even with a new face behind the bench, Gadowsky doesn't expect a Michigan team that's drastically different than what Penn State has experienced recently.
"I don't expect much differently because Mel Pearson, he's a great coach, he coached with Red [Berenson] for 23 years," Gadowsky said. "Red Berenson's footprints are all over everything that program does and they probably will be for decades and decades."As it is with any Big Ten opponent, the intensity will be high this weekend, but Penn State is confident in its ability to remain positive and rise to the challenge in its first conference series at home this year.