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Penn State Turning Focus Inward

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By Erin Neri, student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For Penn State men's hockey, success is found in doing the little things, something that's at the forefront of weekly preparations for the Nittany Lions.

"We know we have to improve, but just trying to do the small things right every day," assistant captain and senior defenseman Erik Autio said.

The Nittany Lions travel to Indiana this weekend, returning to Big Ten play against the newest conference member, Notre Dame. Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky isn't making the focus totally on the opposition this week in practice though, instead the focusing on improvements within the program.

"Right now we're all on us," Gadowsky said. "Where we are, I don't care if it's conference or nonconference, it's pretty well defined what we are doing this week."

After tying the Fighting Irish in game one of last year's series in South Bend, a win in game two marked the beginning of an 11 game win-streak for the Nittany Lions. In order for history to repeat itself this weekend, the defensive unit has to improve.

A point of emphasis for the Blue and White has been defending against the odd man rush. Last weekend alone, the blue line allowed three goals on nine power play opportunities.

"I think we have to initiate starting defense earlier," Autio said.  "Right now we're backing up too much on top of the goalie." 

Penn State's skillset on defense will be put to the test this weekend with the Fighting Irish already finding success in scoring on the odd man rush. Notre Dame leads the Big Ten offensively on the power play, converting their last nine of 35 opportunities.

The Nittany Lions will also look to rectify a slow start coming off puck drop. Mercyhurst scored in the first 13 seconds of game one, something the Nittany Lions will look to reverse headed into a four-game road swing.

"We just have to come in with the mentality of winning the first five minutes," senior defenseman Trevor Hamilton said.

The areas of improvement don't fall solely on the shoulders of the defensemen though, rather on the team as a whole. As Hamilton noted, it's a group effort for both forwards and defenseman to get back and help the goalies. 

On a more positive note, freshman Cole Hults continues to step up, making an impact in his first season for the Nittany Lions.  

Hults registered a pair of assists in each game of last weekend's series, extending his career-high point streak to eight games. He's also continuing to build the connection alongside Autio as line partners. 

"I feel like we have a lot of chemistry, we've been building that ever since he stepped on campus," Autio said. "Obviously he's an amazing player, a smart player, so it's really easy to play with him."

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