Sluggish hardly defined how Kevin Wall commenced his junior season.
Despite tallying the second-most scores of any Nittany Lion during the 2020-21 campaign, the Penfield, New York, native netted only one goal on 20 shots coming into Thursday night’s 4-0 win over Niagara.
He reverted to his stellar sophomore form in the Thursday-night win, as he produced a multi-goal game for the first time since a January victory for the blue and white over Ohio State.
Though Wall had a score to his name earlier in the season, there was a semblance of pressure hanging over him to do better on the offensive end of the ice.
“It’s always in the back of your head,” Wall said. ‘You always want to do better than the year before...I kind of caught myself in the first games thinking about it and it kind of affected my play, so that’s just selfish thoughts. I got to tuck those away and just focus on playing Penn State hockey and I did that tonight and the points came.”
Wall’s linemates, Connor McMenamin and Ben Copeland, played key roles in his success.
Copeland assisted on each of Wall’s goals, including a marvelous dime to Wall when he was positioned right in front of Niagara’s goal, allowing him to easily tap in the puck for the contest’s opening goal.
“Being able to go out there and get the first one, it kind of sets the tone and brings momentum on our side, lifts the bench up too, so that’s always nice,” Wall said. “Copeland’s an incredible skater and he’s fast and he’ll find you if you’re open.”
Of Penn State’s 11 points in the defeat of the Purple Eagles, five of them came from Wall’s line. Before Thursday night, that trio had four points combined among them in as many games.
Defenseman Christian Berger, who had two points himself on a goal and assist, said it was “amazing” to have Wall and company firing on all cylinders.
“We’re defensemen, but we don’t want to play in the D-zone. We want to play in the offensive zone,” Berger said. “Our thought is just to get the puck to those guys as quickly as possible and let them go do their thing in the offensive zone. We can’t get scored on when they’re doing their thing in the offensive zone, so it’s fun.”
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Penn State moved to 4-1 after a beatdown of winless Niagara in Pegula Ice Arena Thursday night.
Guy Gadowsky spoke glowingly about Wall’s line and highlighted Copeland for playing a “big part” in the multi-goal scorer’s success.
The program’s leader also noted how he “can’t say yet” whether teams are keying in on Wall despite the offensive performances he produced several months ago.
However, Gadowsky wouldn’t blame the Nittany Lions’ opponents if they were to always have tabs on Wall.
“Certainly, he warrants some extra attention,” Gadowsky said. “I’m sure everybody knows who he is.”
According to Gadowsky, there’s no question that Wall and his linemates are very skilled, and their play against nonconference-foe Niagara more than proved that point.
However, their results earlier in the season would say otherwise, which Gadowsky chalked up to Wall and company not staying true to Penn State’s identity.
“Earlier in the year, they were trying to play a very cute game,” Gadowsky said. “It’s not really what makes us successful. I think they played a much harder, simpler game [Thursday night]. When they do that, they’re going to have success.”
Gadowsky has high hopes for Wall and his linemates, and so long as they have short and efficient shifts instead of longer ones, they can meet his expectations.
The pressure may persist for Wall to shoulder the load of being one of Penn State’s top offensive threats, but for the time being, Thursday night’s breakout affair could be a sign of things to come for the Nittany Lion sharpshooter and his linemates.
“Our line kind of struggled the first couple of games,” Wall said. “But, I think we found it tonight, and it was a lot more fun to play that way — just happy to be able to do that.”
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