Coach Guy Gadowsky said that last weekend could be the turning point for junior forward Justin Kirchhevel.
In last weekend’s series against Air Force, Kirchhevel had his best and most consistent weekend by far, looking fresher compared to the beginning of the season.
“I don’t think him or anybody, let’s be blunt, was thrilled with his play up to this point,” Gadowsky said. “And I thought he was a lot more focused and moved his feet all weekend.”
Before recording five shots and a goal over two games against Air Force, the Brookings, S.D. native recorded seven shots without a goal in the past five games he played in. Kirchhevel’s goal came in the third period on a breakaway in Friday’s game, when the Nittany Lions were down 3-0. It is Penn State’s first-ever NCAA Division I shorthanded goal.
Gadowsky said it was a big goal, regardless of it being a short-hander, because it put the team in a two-goal game. But the Lions lost momentum after the Falcons scored on a power play less than a minute later.
“You have to give that guy credit for getting on net,” Gadowsky said of Kirchhevel’s goal. “It was a tough one-timer to take. It was within two feet of the blue line. He got a lot on it and put it in the right spot in the net.”
Team captain Tommy Olczyk said Kirchhevel works hard each and every shift. He said Kirchhevel might not get rewarded like he did on Penn State’s American Collegiate Hockey Association Division I club team, only because he’s against a different style of hockey in NCAA Division I. The team is playing a lot quicker and harder hockey.
Kirchhevel was a member of Penn State’s club team as a sophomore last year, where he earned 56 points ï‚¾ 19 goals and 37 assists. As a freshman, he was a member of Alaska Anchorage of the Western Hockey Association before transferring to Penn State.
“…But if you look at the goal he had Friday night, his breakaway speed and ability to put the puck in the net,” Olczyk said. “He’s definitely coming and he’s definitely a player to look out for.”
Kirchhevel played his best so far against Air Force, a team that won five Atlantic Hockey championships and made five NCAA tournaments in the past six seasons.
“Obviously this weekend I got the feet going a little bit more,” Kirchhevel said. “It was good to get back into the feel of things, but I’m going to get going against Union as well.”
After a 14-day break, the Lions travel to Schenectady, N.Y. to play Union for two games. Union made it to the Frozen Four semifinals last year in the NCAA tournament and are currently ranked No. 7 in the nation by U.S. College Hockey Online.
Gadowsky said Kirchhevel made things happen and came back hard against Air Force last weekend.
“He did a lot of little things that we asked him to do and he did them well,” Gadowsky said. “I think this could be a turning-the-corner weekend for him.”