Opening Weekend Driving Improvements

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By Erin Neri, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No. 10 Penn State didn't let an opening night loss keep it from bouncing back the next evening. After falling to Clarkson, 2-1, Friday night, the Nittany Lions quickly bounced back, beating St. Lawrence, 4-1, Saturday.

Sophomore forward Brandon Biro scored the lone power-play goal against the Golden Knights, while sophomores Kris Myllari, Denis Smirnov, Nate Sucese and Liam Folkes all contributed goals against the Saints the following night. 

"We enjoy how we play, we play to score goals, but the goaltender always has a say." Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky said.

On the flip side of the puck, consistency in the defense has been a point of emphasis for Gadowsky throughout the preseason. This weekend senior assistant captain, defenseman Erik Autio set the example.

Gadowsky noted as early as media day that the Nittany Lions would work toward identifying who would fill the role former Nittany Lion Vince Pedrie left on the blue line. While Gadowsky did mention freshman Cole Hults as a potential option, Autio has shown he is ready to take on some of the responsibility.

"The way he [Autio] moves the puck with possession, not just at his end, is incredible," Gadowsky said. "I guarantee he leads the nation in that."

The Blue and White combined for 11 penalties throughout the weekend, with nine of those coming from Saturday night. These nine penalties combined to take an 18 minute chunk out of Penn State's quick level of play on Saturday, but aren't all exactly causing extreme concern for Gadowsky. 

"When you play hockey tough and intense, you're going to get coincidental penalties," Gadowsky said. "Is it something that concerns us? Yes, we will not be successful if we let that get away from us." 

Going the other way, the Nittany Lions only allowed one power-play goal throughout the entire weekend, coming from the stick of St. Lawrence sophomore forward Alex Gilmour.

Since last season, Gadowsky and his staff have been working on special team lines, focusing on keeping the puck out of their own defensive zone on the power play. During opening weekend, that emphasis was on display. 

"We killed [the penalty] very well and I don't think we gave a lot of power play opportunities," Gadowsky said. "But the best way to kill a penalty is to not take them." 

Looking toward the weekend, Penn State heads to Minnesota to get an early start on Big Ten play this season. 

The Golden Gophers, who have been serious contenders in the NCAA national championship race the past few seasons, will pose as an early test for the Nittany Lions.

"I think everyone knows when it's a Big Ten game it's a little more hyped up and people are a little bit more amped up," junior defenseman Kevin Kerr said. "But as a team, we still go out there with the same objectives." 

For Kerr, the opportunity to return to the ice is one that has him particularly hyped, after an injury sidelined him for Penn State's unprecedented postseason run.

Still, with all the success from last season, the team as a whole, is as determined as ever to stay on track and keep their focus. 

"We try not to think about what everyone else's expectations are for us," senior captain forward, James Robinson said. "We know what we have to do to be successful."

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