This Week in Big Ten Hockey: After lethargic start to ’20-21 season, Penn State ‘becoming the team we want to be’

Tim Doherty has five goals and 12 points in 14 games this season for Penn State, and tallied three assists in last Friday night’s win over Michigan State (photo: Mark Selders).

Examples of how this season is unlike any other have basically become a dime a dozen at this point, but it still makes you pause when a coach reminisces how his upperclassmen did not even get to meet the freshmen until right before the season started.

That was the story for Penn State, and as a team with a decent number of new faces, eight freshmen and two graduate transfers, it led to a slow start out of the gate.

“At the start I didn’t really have any time with the team in a room together at all, they were in three groups,” Nittany Lions coach Guy Gadowsky said. “The seniors didn’t even meet the freshmen. We didn’t have any continuity.”

The lack of continuity led to an 0-5 start, but the Nittany Lions have won seven of their last nine contests and are coming off their first conference sweep of the season after taking down Michigan State at home last weekend.

“We are becoming the team we want to be,” Gadowsky said. “The objectives are very well-known within our team and it’s up to us to evaluate that through analytics and video and that tells us where we’re going. We have been playing much better, but there’s still a couple things that we really have to work on.”

Forward Tim Doherty, one of the graduate transfers who has five goals and seven assists in 14 games this season, agrees with his head coach and added that he hoped they could make last weekend a turning point in the season.

“We knew where we stood before (last) weekend and coming into the second semester and that’s just not where we wanted to be,” he said. “We all have a belief in there that we can be a great and hopefully we’re trying to get to that potential. It’s never easy to sweep, especially in this league, so that was huge for us.”

Doherty added that building up the team’s chemistry helped it get over the rocky start to the season.

“Team chemistry is one of, if not the biggest factor of a successful team,” he said. “You can’t have a group of guys that are just there to be there. Everybody in the room right now enjoys coming to the rink every day and loves being around each other, I think that’s the difference between good teams and great teams.”

Gadowsky took the blame for the lack of continuity at the beginning of the season but said that getting the whole team together in practices had helped steer the ship in the right direction.

“We tried hard, I tried hard on Zoom, I wasn’t very effective,” he said. “We had to coach way better, we just didn’t do a good job coaching in small groups. It was difficult to get across the game concepts we wanted to get across. I didn’t do a very good job; I wasn’t innovative enough to do effective coaching.”

This weekend the Nittany Lions get a chance to extend their three-game winning streak and avenge their third and fourth losses of the season when they host Wisconsin. The last series the two teams played was not pretty for Penn State fans with the Badgers picking up 6-3 and 7-3 victories.

Gadowsky believes that a different Penn State team will take the ice this time around, however.

“What we’re trying to get out of this week is to get better at the information received last weekend, plus compare it to how we were exploited last time we played Wisconsin,” he said. “We still have things we definitely need to work on, but if you compare us to what we were in Wisconsin we’re a much different team.”

Gophers look to ‘turn the page quickly’ on season, even with a 11-3 record

Minnesota cruised through the first half of the season, but, so far, 2021 has not been kind to the Gophers.

His team still holds an eight-point lead over Wisconsin in the Big Ten standings, but coach Bob Motzko said he hoped Minnesota learned something after getting swept by Notre Dame last weekend.

“This is going to sound kind of crazy if I use a statement like this, but we hope this is the weekend that we’re going to grow from, and it’ll turn us around,” he said after Saturday’s game. “We didn’t have a series like last weekend and this weekend in the first half. We responded a week ago on Saturday, and we did tonight in the second two periods, but that wasn’t enough in this game.”

The two one-goal losses to the Irish were made worse by the fact that the Gophers failed to score on any of its seven power play opportunities over the weekend. Minnesota’s power play is ranked 18th in the nation having scored on 11 of 49 opportunities.

“We’re not talented enough to show up at the rink and everything’s going to pop our way,” Motzko said. “Usually, you want to learn lessons like this in October and November, well we didn’t have an October and we kind of cruised through November.

“You’d rather learn those lessons in the early part of the year, but because of this crazy year, we’re getting our lesson taught to us right now in January and we need to adapt to that quickly. At times over the two weeks, we did, but we’ve got another big step that we have to take.”

Motzko said that the locker room was “dead silent” after Saturday’s game.

“They got poked in the nose. A lot of disappointment, but we have to turn the page quickly because the games keep coming right now,” he said. “When you start off 10-0, maybe there is that ‘hey, this is kind of easy.’ Then you get smacked down and you realize that the way you show up to the rink that day to play that game (matters), I think this will be a great lesson for us.”

Minnesota has an opportunity to get back to its winning ways when it hosts road-warrior Arizona State this weekend.

Notre Dame looks to bring winning ways home

One would be remis to not talk about the team that went out and swept Minnesota, Notre Dame.

The Irish maintained their perfect road record, now 4-0, and coach Jeff Jackson said that it was no accident that they didn’t concede a power-play goal all weekend.

“We spent a lot of time on special teams in practice this last week and it showed this weekend,” Jackson said after Saturday’s game. “I think both nights goaltending made a big difference in the penalty kill, too.”

Jackson added that he’d like to see the team mimic the way it plays on the road at home, where the Irish have a 3-6-1 record. Notre Dame will get a chance to accomplish that this weekend when Michigan comes to town.

“The big thing for us is finding a way to play like this at home and finding the same energy and discipline in the way we play,” he said.

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