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Gordon Brunskill | The Centre Daily Times | February 24, 2017

Big goals still possible for Penn State with big final stretch

  Penn State is 2-6-1 since Jan. 20, when it was ranked No. 1 in multiple polls.

The typical answer for most coaches, when asked about things that are weeks or months away, is to deflect the answer.

Worry about the next game, they say.

Penn State men's hockey coach Guy Gadowsky is no different, reiterating time and again the team wants to play their own game and focus on their next opponent.

However, well aware of what's at stake, Gadowsky did open up the long-range viewers this week.

The No. 11 Nittany Lions have six games left in the regular season, starting with a pair of 7 p.m. games Friday and Saturday at Michigan State. Penn State hasn't yet locked up a spot in the 16-team NCAA tournament but, with its current ranking, it's still in a fairly comfortable position to secure its first-ever postseason berth — as long as it finishes strong.

"At this point, we know where we're at," Gadowsky said. "I think we always want to focus on what's next and stay in the present. That's really important for how we do things. At this point of the year, we understand where we're at in terms of a national position and in terms of a position in the Big Ten."

After spending weeks at or near the top of the rankings, especially the PairWise Rankings, which strongly indicate the NCAA tournament field, Penn State has been in a tailspin of late. It has a 2-6-1 record since Jan. 20, when it entered the weekend as the nation's No. 1 team.

Most heartbreaking was Saturday, giving up the game-tying goal with 3.5 seconds left in regulation and falling in overtime to Minnesota.

But in the six remaining games for the Nittany Lions, they should feel extra confident: Penn State swept both games of earlier series with each team -- the Spartans, Wisconsin and Michigan.

They should be expecting wins against the co-tenants of the Big Ten's cellar in the Spartans and Wolverines. The Badgers, who are right on the Gophers' tail in the conference, are a different story, but Penn State swept both games in Madison and will get them at home next weekend.

MORE: Games to watch this weekend | Hockey bracketology

The Nittany Lions may not have expected this scenario when they had their first practice at the beginning of October. But here they are, and it's time to seize the day.

"Everybody understands that we have a really great opportunity that we have the possibility of making the tournament either by winning the Big Tens or as an at-large (team)," Gadowsky said. "So the remaining games are all huge and that's why we want to learn those lessons from Saturday now. To be in a position to make the tournament, it's not a given, so for the freshmen and sophomores to sit back and say, 'Yeah, we'll learn the lesson and we're going to apply it down the road,' -- no. We've got an opportunity now; we want to take advantage of this now."

Among the lessons from Saturday were playing well, basically, for 59 minutes and 57 seconds against what is now the nation's No. 4 team. The power-play unit still has some issues, but defensively they were solid and offensively they have apparently found some of the magic that had been missing over the previous weeks.

They just need to dwell on the positives from Saturday and not the day's final seconds.

"(We're) trying to keep everyone focused on the big goals for the season," senior captain David Goodwin said. "Which is obviously winning a Big Ten championship and getting a bid to the tournament."

This article is written by Gordon Brunskill from Centre Daily Times and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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