Hockey: Skaters’ skills can’t match tactics of Division I Lions

Brett Agnew backhands a shot past Oakland University in the first period in Bird Arena. Ohio defeated Oakland 6-0. (Conor Ralph | For The Post)

Coach Dan Morris felt Penn State was gracious to add Ohio to its schedule, even with the Nittany Lions’ move from the American Collegiate Hockey Association to NCAA Division I level.

But the Nittany Lions were anything but gracious in their weekend series against the Bobcats, sweeping the two games against Ohio by a combined score of 11-4.

Despite the lopsided result, the team felt as if there were some major positives to be had, as Ohio held a 3-2 against the former conference rival well into the third period in the second game, only faltering in the final 10-and-a-half minutes, giving up three goals.

Morris said the team competed hard for 50 minutes but just couldn’t muster enough energy to keep up with a Division I team.

“We were just out of gas,” Morris said. “And that ended up leading to the tying goal and the winning goal. We were fatigued.”

Playing against a team that can give scholarships to its athletes attracts more young talent, so the level of competition was raised during the weekend in Pennsylvania. Nine of the 11 top scorers on the Nittany Lion squad are either freshmen or sophomores who transferred to be a part of the first class of Penn State players to play D-I hockey.

“Penn State has four lines that can roll,” junior forward Brett Agnew said. “They just have more depth than who we (normally) play against. They transition really well in the neutral zone, always moving the puck up ice, and they pass really hard, too.”

The game plan Morris and his coaches drew up for the series was not very different than what he would devise for an ACHA opponent. He said the players had to make the same adjustments, just at a quicker pace.

“You might lose in the man-on-man battle,” he said. “But as a unit, you can really come up with a game plan that makes you successful. The difference is, in the NCAA opponent, the fourth-line guys are first-line guys at (the ACHA) level. … I mean, there are draft picks out there.”

The draft pick Morris is talking about is sophomore forward Max Gardiner, who transferred from Minnesota and leads the team with 16 assists. Gardiner was drafted in the third round of the 2010 NHL Draft by the St. Louis Blues.

But Agnew still said the level of competition was much higher than the hierarchy in the ACHA.

“There are a lot of good teams in our league that can play with that Penn State team,” he said. “We have some really good teams in our league. I think they’re a little bit faster than us, but the competition isn’t too much.”

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