A common question that coaches get asked is whether or not they made adjustments during breaks between periods. More often than not the question pertains to changes in X’s and O’s.
Men’s hockey coach Guy Gadowsky has steered the questions about adjustments toward the team’s overall mental toughness. Recent wins against Vermont and Michigan State have shown an improvement in that area.
Sophomore winger and team captain Tommy Olczyk said the team played two out three periods well in last Friday’s loss to Michigan State, while playing their “most complete game” in Saturday’s 3-2 win against the Spartans.
“It’s a hard thing to measure,” Gadowsky said of his team’s mentality at Tuesday’s practice.
As a first-year program, the Nittany Lions are what Gadowsky has called a team of all freshmen, and the team’s youth has shown at times.
With the upcoming weekend against Ohio, an arch rival of the former ACHA Icers, the Nittany Lions are facing a situation they have faced before — following up a big win against a Division I program with a game against a Division III or ACHA club program.
“You come off a big win and then you play someone you're supposed to beat, it’s a tough thing to do," Gadowsky said. “Mental toughness isn’t just how you play [against Division I opponents].”
It is harder to get as pumped up for those games as it would be for bigger opponents. That means making it is a true test of mental toughness, Gadowsky said.
Junior center Taylor Holstrom said the team played without a lot of intensity in games against weaker opponents. Unfortunately for the Lions, they had to learn the hard way.
In just the third game of the season, Penn State found itself looking ahead to playing in a big arena against R.I.T. and not prepared to play against Division III Buffalo State. The Lions got shut out.
After a loss against club team Arizona State on Dec. 1, Gadowsky said he saw that the Sun Devils were the “more excited” team out on the ice.
It became more evident when Gadowsky made more references to mental toughness while grinding his teeth together in frustration following a 3-2 overtime loss to Division III Neumann.
Olczyk agreed with his coach that mental weakness is not part of any winning team.
“You have to be mentally tough, it doesn’t matter who we play,” Olczyk said. “It doesn’t matter what level the other team is, hockey is hockey. Any team has chance to win on any given night.”
Olczyk added that if Penn State is not ready to play this weekend, the team will deserve to lose to the Bobcats.
Both Olczyk and Gadowsky pointed out that the team will need to do the little things correctly. Gadowsky in particular said that the hockey Gods will reward those who that do so.