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Dec. 5, 2013
By Michael Renahan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer|
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The moment has finally arrived. Big Ten hockey is finally here.
When Penn State travels to Madison, Wis., this weekend for showdown with the University of Wisconsin, it will be their first skate against an official Big Ten opponent, and their first chance to make an impression on the five other teams that make up the conference.
The Nittany Lions circled this series when schedules were released and are excited to finally hit the road and take on a conference opponent.
After dropping their last two series to then-No. 16 UMass Lowell and then-No. 15 Union, the atmosphere and intensity at practice have become much more "business like," according to coach Guy Gadowsky.
"We have had to refocus on certain objectives that are very, very important for us that we don't feel we have a true commitment to yet," Gadowsky said. "We want to see a true commitment in those areas and of course we want to see it for 60 minutes. That's the challenge right now."
Gadowsky has noted several times the Nittany Lions were lucky to get the chance to play elite talent prior to starting conference play. The coach says it's important to learn from the mistakes and as a team correct them on the ice going forward.
"It is about practicing well and carrying those lessons into the games," said Gadowsky. "It takes doing it against top-notch competition in big games and close games. It's easy to do it in practice when it doesn't matter. It's sometimes a lot harder to do it against a ranked team, in a full building and there's pressure. It's a building process."
That process is something that Gadowsky says his team has started to feel and knows playing top-flight competition will help speed up.
"I do know that you grow through every experience that you have and that's important against big-time competition," said Gadowsky. "You grow from [playing good teams], and we've had to grow up fast."
The Nittany Lions aren't harping on their recent losses either. They have already turned the page from last weekend's close losses to Union and are looking ahead to the challenge the Badgers present.
"It's a long season and luckily, we're just getting into our Big Ten schedule right now," defenseman David Thompson said. "The Big Ten presents some great competition. It's great to finally start seeing these teams that we know are prominent in on the national stage."
The Big Ten has already been recognized as one of the more elite conferences in the nation. Currently, the conference has three teams ranked in USCHO's Top 20, including Wisconsin at No. 17.
Penn State is well aware of the reputation these teams have as championship contender's year in and year out, and they're excited to test where they are as a team against elite competition.
"Starting Big Ten play is a little bittersweet," Thompson said. "We get to finally get into it but at the same time we're facing some of the best teams in the nation. It's going to be exciting, due to the fact that we get to see the best competition out there, but at the same time, we know it's not going to be easy."
After the series against Union, Gadowsky reiterated that his team has to play a mentally grueling game if they want to be successful. The team has begun to buy in to the system and the effects are showing. The power-play opportunities are increasing, the penalty minutes are going down and the confidence is increasing period by period.
"I think the guys are definitely more focused," forward Dylan Richard said. "Attention to detail is greater and we're doing whatever we can to continue to improve."
Right now the Lions believe it is the little things that will make a difference moving forward.
"We know we have to focus on the little things," said Thompson, "like getting pucks behind the defense, winning races to the pucks in the corners and getting shots on net. We need to limit our mistakes. We have to be ready to play smart hockey against these teams because they will capitalize off of little errors."
The opening of Big Ten play is also a time for the Nittany Lions to reflect. Without the conference, Gadowsky says, the players and staff that make up this Penn State program very well may not be here.
"We [the players and staff] are here largely due to the opportunity to play in the Big Ten conference," Gadowsky said. "It's something that is very important to college hockey. It's truly an honor to play in this conference and compete against the programs that make up the Big Ten. It is very exciting."