Of the 10 defeats Penn State has taken in the 2021-22 season, it’s hard not to say the team’s most recent loss was the most painful yet.
Barring the squad’s first series against Michigan and Ohio State in which the blue and white was taken down in consecutive sweeps, the Nittany Lions have put up serious efforts against their Big Ten counterparts all season.
Most recently, the school’s first couple of contests against Notre Dame played a similar tune.
While the Fighting Irish took care of business 4-2 in a typical game of hockey in Game 1, Guy Gadowsky’s squad seemed primed to earn its first win against a conference opponent in almost a month in Game 2.
In the dwindling minutes of last Saturday’s event, Penn State held a promising 4-3 lead as the end of regulation approached.
Even in a high-scoring affair and after giving up three goals, senior goalie Oskar Autio found his stride for the bulk of the third period.
Of the 34 stops he made on the night, the Espoo, Finland, native displayed plenty of skill on numerous timely saves throughout the game.
Unfortunately for Penn State’s defense, something had to give.
With 2:13 remaining in the final third, Notre Dame found twine when it mattered most. The buzzer sounded, and Penn State was headed to its second overtime game of the season.
That wasn’t the end of the team’s late-game woes, though, as it went from bad to worse for Penn State.
In a tight-knit, 3-on-3 overtime battle with the Irish, the blue and white looked to cap off the extra period in a 4-4 deadlock, but the gold helmets snuck in the game-winner with 0.2 seconds remaining.
For Gadowsky, it came down to a lack of preparation for the moment.
“We don’t have the guys that have been in that situation,” Gadowsky said. “You have to be in them to develop the mental toughness and the confidence to play in those situations.”
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Now, Penn State sits last in the conference standings behind Wisconsin, and the gap between the blue and white and the teams at the top is starting to grow.
Nonetheless, Penn State can go in two different directions after such a devastating loss: Learn from it and improve or roll over and fall behind even further.
“This is an area where I need to get tougher and improve,” Gadowsky said. “I’m grateful for the experience from the situation on Jan. 8.”
While Gadowsky had a more neutral opinion on the implementation of 3-on-3 overtime, a few players see the relatively new rule as a positive change in the sport.
“I think [3-on-3 overtime] is great. I love the format of it,” senior defenseman Clayton Phillips said. “We’ve been on both ends of overtime this year. Obviously, we can learn from that and make some changes.”
Sophomore defenseman Jimmy Dowd Jr., who saw some individual success on the stat sheet against Notre Dame, didn’t seem to let the result of the extra period discourage him.
Scoring an early goal against the Fighting Irish, Dowd said he was ready for another opportunity in overtime, even embracing the possibility.
“I do want another overtime game this year, and I want to win it,” Dowd said.
Whether it is putting the defeat behind them or internalizing it as a lesson, the Nittany Lions have plenty to prepare for in their next matchup against Michigan.
The last time the two teams met, the Wolverines swept the blue and white with ease, taking down Penn State 5-1 and 6-2 in Hockey Valley.
Now Gadowsky’s squad will head to Ann Arbor in hopes to right the proverbial ship while the team still can.
“As much as it hurts, we have to make sure we learned our lesson,” Gadowsky said.
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