Penn State has done something to potentially put teams on notice.
The Nittany Lions swept a very good Clarkson team in their first series, then exorcised the demons against Niagara, outlasting the Purple Eagles and not dropping early games against lesser opponents like they did a season ago.
Coach Guy Gadowsky addressed the media Monday as Penn State prepares for its duel with Princeton.
Doing it without Denis
Although winning the first four games out of 34 might not seem incredibly important, starting the season 4-0 is something the Nittany Lions have never accomplished.
“We’re just benefitting from a lot of lessons we’ve learned in the past,” Gadowsky said.
One big lesson came last year, when early season losses nearly cost the team a trip to the NCAA tournament. Yet coming off a convincing sweep against Niagara, it seems this team has taken those lessons to heart.
What makes this even more impressive is that this team is performing so well offensively without much help from forward Denis Smirnov, often thought of as the best attacking player on the team.
Smirnov missed the first series against Clarkson because of an upper body injury from a hit in the international game.
The Russian winger was able to make it back for the second series against Niagara, but it was apparent he had not fully recovered from the injury and he was not playing at his best.
“Quite honestly, the most encouraging stat of the whole weekend is that you have an 8-2 win and Denis Smirnov doesn’t have a point,” Gadowsky said.
Gadowsky added that he knows Smirnov is “going to get it going.” When a healthy Smirnov has added into the mix with the rest of the forwards, opposing defense will be on high alert.
Still no answer at goalie
Gadowsky has a very good problem in the goalie position. While a lot of people thought Peyton Jones would improve upon his last season, few expected he would play as well as he has.
Jones has given up only two goals in two games and sports a .973 save percentage.
What is even more impressive is that his “backup” Chris Funkey is playing like a starting goaltender as well.
“They both deserve opportunities to play, they’re both such great teammates and great guys that they both deserve that,” Gadowsky said.
Gadowsky has made it clear that while Jones will get the start in the single game against No. 13 Princeton, Jones and Funkey will share the starting role for the time being.
For now, the Nittany Lions can rest easy knowing they have two goalies they can put their trust in.
No extra meaning for Gadowsky
It’s no secret the Princeton Tigers will visit Pegula on Friday. This is an important game not only because the Tigers are ranked only three spots behind the No. 10 Nittany Lions, but also because it is Gadowsky’s old team.
Gadowsky coached Princeton from 2004 to 2011, where he led the team to two NCAA tournament appearances and a conference championship. Despite this, Gadowsky is not adding any sentimental value to the upcoming game.
“We need this win,” Gadowsky said. “Keeping in touch with them off the ice has absolutely nothing to do with what’s going to happen Friday.”
The Tigers have yet to play a game this season, yet their reputation makes them yet another challenge for the Nittany Lion’s nonconference schedule.