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Penn State Hockey: Even If The Nittany Lions Miss Postseason, 2017-18 Season Holds Big Lesson

on February 20, 2018 12:20 PM

It is worth noting off the top that Penn State's season isn't over, something that anyone inside Pegula Ice Arena will be quick to remind you.

But if we're going to be fair about things it's worth noting as well that the road to the postseason is not an easy one. It will require a sweep of Minnesota, and probably two or three more wins in the Big Ten Tournament. Since the first round of the tournament is best-of-three, it doesn't mean a five-game winning streak, but it may as well.

And that would be a very Penn State hockey thing to do. The Nittany Lions have had an odd way of turning it on out of the blue and playing like the best team in the conference. So no, the season isn't over.

That being said it is hard imagining that scenario playing out. The nice thing about a long season is that it gives everyone a lot of data points to work with. In mid February you can say Penn State is good, they are the cliche'd team that is better than its record, on their best nights the Nittany Lions are truly as good as anyone.

The problem is simply the fact it's hard to know when those nights will show up and how long they will stay. Penn State's defensive unit is solid but still prone to mistakes, Peyton Jones has been good, but hasn't quite lived up to a perhaps impossible expectation that he would turn his incredible Big Ten Tournament run of 2017 into an entire season in 2018. Penn State's offense has looked its usual self, but it lacks something of a killer instinct and has at times has simply tried to be something that it isn't.

So all told, sure Penn State hockey could do the incredible, and that wouldn't even be all that surprising, but it seems unlikely.

Which brings the program to one of its final "firsts" over a half decade later. The first season where things didn't quite go right, a season that has a bit of the tinting of disappointment. A year after a first-ever NCAA Tournament bid and a second straight season of 20+ wins, the Nittany Lions have looked on average, simply average.

In reality that isn't a knock. Penn State has learned a vital lesson this year, one that might make the ups and downs worth it for the program in the long run. It is really hard to win in the Big Ten, it is really hard to win in college hockey in general, and most of all, it's really hard to make the 16-team field in the postseason. 

Friday night will mark the 210th game that Penn State has played as a Division I program, a almost inconsequential drop in the bucket of college hockey's long history. A win, Guy Gadowsky's 100th at Penn State. The Nittany Lions will probably split the series against Minnesota, a fitting result for a team that is eyeing finishing the year at .500, a record both short of what it wanted to do, and a reflection of a thankless Big Ten schedule.

So what's the lesson for Penn State hockey? It's simple. The work never stops.

“You can’t assume that you’re done with your foundation, how you play, and you add on to things and this will stay the same. You have to chase it every single year,” Gadowsky said Monday. “That’s what I learned and I think in all coming years, we’ll do a better job of that. I also think that you have to be very careful of success not changing mindset. We still have time to make sure that’s in the right place.”

Penn State will head into the offseason at some point with a new appreciation for that fact. The Nittany Lions for all of their faults were a few one-goal games and third period leads away from punching their ticket in a more traditional fashion. Coming up short less of an indictment as it is reality.

Undeniably, Penn State will know that it missed a chance to play in Allentown as a regional host in this year's NCAA Tournament. In theory that should have been an easier road to the Frozen Four. 

But of all of Penn State hockey's strengths, its ability to learn and adapt has been one of its greatest. Which means the chance to play in Allentown will come around again in 2019, and more likely than not, the Nittany Lions will be in the thick of things yet again. 

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