It’s time for Justin Kirchhevel and Brian Dolan to rip off the Band-Aid, because both players will be back on the ice for Tuesday’s match-up against Neumann.
However, standout defenseman Luke Juha is officially out for the season with an abdominal injury. Other injuries from Jonathan Milley and Nate Jensen continue to plague the Nittany Lions.
The scarcity of the team’s defensemen has been a recent issue and coach Guy Gadowsky said it hurts them to have Juha out indefinitely, especially since he’s recently played his best.
The Penn State freshman has appeared in all 19 games, excluding the exhibition series against the United States Under-18 national team the past weekend. He’s ranked tenth among the team in offensive statistics, tallying seven points this past season (one goal, six assists).
Juha previously played for the Vernon Vipers of the British Colombia Hockey League from 2011-2012, where he missed most of the season due to injury. He was also a member of the Burlington Cougars of the Ontario Junior Hockey League from 2009-2011, where he was named the team’s top defenseman in 2011.
Forwards Casey Bailey and Tommy Olczyk agreed that Juha was one of their top defensemen, who brought a lot of skill and vision to the ice.
“Losing him definitely hurts, but that opens up a spot for other [defensemen] to take his role and run with it,” Olczyk said. “Hopefully someone will jump up in that role, but we’ll definitely miss him.”
Olczyk added that the Lions add one more to the defensive rotation with Dolan.
Although Juha won’t be seen in a game this season, Gadowsky said, “we’ll absolutely see [Jensen] before the end of the year.”
The head coach was disappointed that Jensen, who’s suffering from an upper body injury, wasn’t able to practice Monday. He explained how Jensen changes the whole defense, by being a great skater who creates offense, which forces a team to be less aggressive.
“I think our [defensive] core changes because of that,” Gadowsky said. “I think you have teams that think, well now we can go get ‘em.”
Gadowsky said the assistant captain also has a mental impact on he team. He said Jensen is quiet, leads by example and calms people down in frantic situations.
Bailey said Jensen is one of their most experienced defensemen, saying he brings a lot of leadership to their defensive zone.
Milley was practicing on Monday, but head coach Guy Gadowsky said the freshman forward isn’t healthy enough to get back on the ice, no matter how much his presence would help the team.
The freshman forward is suffering a lower body injury and Gadowsky said he doesn’t expect to see him in a game anytime soon.
“I do hope he gets healthy enough…where he can play a game without us worrying about him hurting his body again,” Gadowsky said. “He’s a really good player, like a really good player. If he’s healthy, you guys are going to love him, I promise you.”
Gadowsky said he’s curious to see what Kirchhevel will bring to the team once he returns. The junior forward said he suffered a concussion and last played against Arizona State on Nov. 30.
Kirchhevel said it’s been tough watching the team and not being able to play.
“Our team’s been doing well and taking the right steps, so I’m hoping to go out there and do the right things and contribute in a positive way,” Kirchhevel said.
Gadowsky also said junior forward Taylor Holstrom is eligible after Saturday’s 10-minute “verbal” misconduct, which forced officials to escort him off the ice.
“He isn’t in our doghouse,” Gadowsky said. “He might not play, but that doesn’t mean he’s in our doghouse.”