Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Why I'm Optimistic

In my post covering the Delaware games, I tried to take a positive tone, which I felt was appropriate, even though I'm sure it violates some blogger's code somewhere or something. The cold truth is that the Icers split, and as ambiguous as a split can be, I have a hard time taking it as a disaster when the split is with a team that is ranked eight slots higher. If Penn State loses Friday and wins Saturday, or wins 7-0 and loses 3-2, you might feel better about it, but it's 1-1 no matter how you slice it. Don't agree with me? Well, Paul Daley does:
“In perspective, it’s not that bad of a loss. We split with a team ranked ahead of us, knowing we didn’t play our best the second game. We have to go back to what we do.”
Put that together with the Towson weekend and beating Niagara (hey, I'm not on the team, I'm allowed to do that), and the Icers will have won four of five to close out the semester after the disaster at Rhode Island. Not exactly juggernaut stuff, but certainly something to build on. That spring schedule still looks imposing with Ohio (in Athens), Delaware (in Newark) and Rhode Island looming. However splits in those three series, combined with taking care of business against West Chester and Bobby Mo - and I believe that PSU has proven capable of that - get Penn State's final nationals resume to 22-8-0, including five wins against likely top 10 teams. Not the best we've ever seen, but probably enough to at least wear white jerseys for the first round. And given recent history (Central Oklahoma, Liberty), I'm okay with being an underdog in the second round.

More than anything else though, the reason I'm optimistic is because I caught a glimpse of the team's capabilities on Friday with a fully-stocked roster for the first time all season. Four lines that can hurt you, including the Icers' "best player" on the presumptive third line. The Icers' worst line Friday (Cerutti-Morrone-Collins) had been the best the week two weeks before, so we know they can play. A defense corps that might be coming together as the season goes on (the mistakes have been fewer and less glaring in my observation, anyway). A young goaltender who has been a revelation, despite a rough patch on Saturday - and if the other, more experienced goalie finds the form that we've seen before over the semester break, PSU is once again deep there. A power play with too much talent to go 0-for-the-weekend very often, as has happened twice this season.

Lost in the fact that we had so many injury returnees was the lineup shuffling that had to be done as a result. Meaning that things will only look better going forward as guys learn and re-learn how to play with each other, at least according to Taylor Cera (and me, which is why I'm including it).
The main factor going forward will be chemistry, Cera said. Now healthy, the Icers will need to get a feel for each other on the ice, while continuing to learn to play together.

“We need to keep building off what we have,” Cera said. “It showed early what we’re capable of. We had a couple of goals in the first couple minutes.”
So there you have it. A finally-healthy team that will only continue to improve. And while it's unlikely that the Icers will sit in their customary position as one of the two or three favorites come March, it certainly seems possible that they'll be playing their best hockey at the right time and be one of those teams the favorites hope is on the opposite side of the bracket. None of that sounds all that horrible to me.

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