Despite a continued struggle to get back in the win column, Penn State made major strides in an area of need in its series against Notre Dame.
The blue and white managed to spend just six total minutes in the penalty box in two games with the Irish, with all three minor infractions being committed in the first contest.
As a result of the team’s clean sheet in the penalty column Saturday, the Nittany Lions set a season low in penalty minutes across a two-game series.
Guy Gadowsky said his team’s ability to avoid the box played a big role in its ability to compete with then-No. 13 Notre Dame and added the stat was proof his squad can do it again in the future.
“That is very fun. I think it obviously played a big role in the performance that we had,” Gadowsky said. “What we take away is we can absolutely do it.”
A meeting between coaches and players took place to directly address the problem, according to fifth-year senior Clayton Phillips, who said the group decided the excess box-time problem had gone on for too long.
“Before this weekend, we’d been taking way too many penalties,” Phillips said. “We kind of sat down and said, ‘Enough is enough.’”
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The consensus between Gadowsky and his players seems to be that the improvement stems from a change in mentality, more than one systematically.
Penn State’s head coach said the penalty dilemma was one he and his staff had been pushing to fix consistently and the improvement ultimately came down to his group finally taking action.
“It's nothing that we did [to] change systematically. It's all mindset and attention,” Gadowsky said. “I think finally the team decided that — hell or high water, they were going to figure it out.”
Penn State went into Saturday’s matchup with Notre Dame with the 13th-highest average penalty minutes in all of college hockey.
The blue and white now now sits at 18th in the nation, with hopes of dropping even further as it progresses through its season.
Sophomore defender Jimmy Dowd Jr. echoed Gadowsky’s sentiments, pinpointing the team’s mindset shift as a major player.
“It's a mentality thing as a team,” Dowd Jr. said. “[Taking] penalties is something we struggled with in the past.”
Dowd Jr. said the team as a whole was “really happy about” its ability to avoid time in the box.
Along with penalties comes the essentially inevitable need to put one’s penalty-killing unit on the ice.
The Nittany Lions have one of the country’s least-successful penalty-killing units, ranking 52nd in the country in kill percentage.
The blue and white’s .747 kill percentage ranks second worst in the conference, with just Wisconsin trailing Gadowsky’s team.
While Gadowsky wouldn't suggest that there was a systematic reason for his team’s lack of penalty time, Dowd Jr. presented the shift time does play a part in that respect.
“I think short shifts too, go in a lot to that,” Dowd Jr. said. “When you're tired, your habits kind of get bad, and then you're kind of trying to chase guys.”
Moving forward, Penn State will need to not only maintain its improved mentality, but work towards being better at killing the man-advantage chances its opponents will likely get.
“Today was a good step in the right direction,” senior defenseman captain Paul DeNaples said after the team’s Saturday night loss to Notre Dame. “Staying out of the box for the first time this year is incredible.”
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