Ice Arena Opening: Offense looks to improve with depth and experience

Casey Bailey (18) fights for the puck during the game against Vermont at the Philadelphia College Hockey Faceoff at the Wells Fargo Center last season. Bailey scored Penn State's last goal in the third period, which helped achieve the 4-2 victory.

Series note: This is the third in a ten-part series leading up to Pegula Ice Arena’s opening night.

Penn State lost 26 percent of its roster to graduation or players losing eligibility after the 2012-2013 season.

Yet, only two players in the 26 percent scored goals.

And those two combined for just four goals of the Nittany Lions’ 74.

The idea of experience and adding in five new freshmen forwards could create an underestimated and surprising offense for the upcoming season.

“I think our depth this year has added a lot to our roster,” leading scorer Casey Bailey said at Penn State media day on Monday. “I think picking up [Eric] Scheid with experience — he played at the college level. But bringing in guys with experience and our freshmen, we have a lot of skill there. I think that’s going to give us a little more rest when we need it and I think we might have some guys that will step up this year.”

Penn State will return 15 players who combined for 70 of the teams 74 goals, meaning 94 percent of the goal-scorers return.

Sprinkle in the experience from last year’s 13-14 record, and hopes are high for the offense, especially among Bailey, sophomore David Glen and redshirt junior Max Gardiner, who were one, two and three in points last year.

“I think all three of us kind of go in with the expectation that that’s what [Coach Guy Gadowsky] brought us in to do, to put those points up,” Bailey said. “I think that’s something we strive to do each game.”

Looking at the offensive numbers, Penn State compares nicely to the rest of the newly formed Big Ten hockey conference.

Strictly speaking of the six teams, Gadowsky’s Lions finished third between the schools in goals per game. Penn State averaged 2.74 goals, and only Minnesota (3.48) and Michigan (3.23) averaged more.

“We’re going to be certainly a lot different in depth at all positions,” Gadowsky said. “But we also feel that we’re going to make huge strides in terms of the experience that these players got last year. One of the benefits is that you have very young guys that were put in some key roles that you might not get in other programs.”

One of the areas for concern was that the Lions averaged to give up more goals per game (2.96) than they scored. Compared to the teams in the Big Ten, it’s the second worst behind the Wolverines’ 3.25 allowed per game.

“I think minimizing our mistakes,” redshirt junior forward Taylor Holstrom said of how Penn State can combat that issue. “At the blue line, one thing we are going to have to work on is just making sure we don’t give the other team the opportunity to have a quick transition and get an odd man rush on us.”

Another area of concern for the offense comes on special teams, where Penn State only had 12 goals on the power play in 107 tries, equaling just an 11 percent success rate.

Every other team in the Big Ten had better numbers on the power play, and each team was at least six goals or better with a man advantage.

“I think we have a lot more tools than we did last year to improve on that aspect of our game,” Bailey said. “I think getting that year of experience under our belts working with each other. [Coach Gadowsky] will have a lot more tools and players to work with in different areas on the power play.”

While Gadowsky would like to see that goals per game and power play percentage rise, he also feels last year is going to help a lot.

“I know many thought that it wouldn’t be possible in our first year to have wins like that,” Gadowsky said. “I mean this year coming up —our first year in the Big Ten — I don’t know if it necessarily raises the bar, but it certainly has accelerated the process for what people think is going to happen. As I mentioned before I think we have some very high expectations for this program.”

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Darian Somers can be reached at dos5398@psu.edu or (814) 865-1828. Follow him on Twitter at @StuffSomersSays.