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Nov. 29, 2012
By: Sean Flanery, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Coming off a week-long break for Thanksgiving, the Nittany Lions are in the midst of a six-game road trip that continues with a two-game series at Mercyhurst this weekend.
Penn State (5-8-1, 1-6-1) entered its Thanksgiving break on a high note recording its first College Hockey America win in comeback fashion, 3-2, at Lindenwood on Nov. 17. Moving forward, the Lions hope they can keep the momentum and build upon it as they prepare themselves for their toughest test of the season. Penn State head coach Josh Brandwene believes the break served the team very well after seeing how the team responded in the first few practices following the week off.
"The break was great," said Brandwene. "The energy at practice the last two days has been phenomenal, both from a physical standpoint and an enthusiasm standpoint. I think we are in a great place right now."
The Nittany Lions will need every bit of that energy as they are set to take on their toughest opponent this season. Fellow Pennsylvania and CHA opponent, Mercyhurst (12-1-1, 4-0-0) enters the series with the Lions ranked No. 4 in Division I and are the leaders of the CHA. The Lakers undefeated conference record speaks for itself as the team has won every conference championship since the CHA was created in 2003.
As of late head coach Josh Brandwene believes the Lions have made great strides on the ice. He has stated multiple times that this young team is beginning to learn how to play the game on the ice rather than focusing on the score, which will be vital against the Lakers. Junior forward and team captain Taylor Gross explained that while trying to not let the score get to you is hard, it is important to stay mentally focused.
"No matter what happens, it doesn't matter if they score, you just have to play the game like its one to nothing," said Gross. "So, we just can't let anything get to us during the game."
While staying mentally tough will be a key in the series with the Lakers, coach Brandwene believes if the team can just do all of the small tasks correctly it will give them the best chance at winning.
The Lions will need to use the same intensity they have brought in practice over the last few days and do the little things correctly to compete with a decorated team like Mercyhurst. Brandwene stated that the Lions just can't get caught up in the score, or how good the Lakers are, they just need to maintain their own identity out on the ice.
"The game is the game, and (Mercyhurst) is a terrific team," said Brandwene. "I have a lot of respect for Mike Sista and the job he has done for that program. Our job is to do what we do well and do it to the best of our ability. (We have to) go out and play our game."
Looking forward, the Nittany Lions have just four games remaining, including this series with the Lakers, before the team will have a lengthy winter break. The Blue and White can't afford to look forward as the break approaches, but Gross believes it would be a huge confident boost if the team could strike for another win before the break.
"Obviously, you have to have high expectations," said Gross. "It would be really nice to come out with a couple of wins going into break. But basically we have to continue to get better and hopefully we will be playing our best hockey of the year heading into break."
The Nittany Lions look to continue to improve on the ice as a unit and facing a team like Mercyhurst will be a stepping-stone for the program in its inaugural season. The puck will drop inside the Mercyhurst Ice Center at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 30.