Penn State men’s hockey suffered another long-term injury this weekend. His top centerman, Chase McLane, was confirmed for the year from head coach Guy Gadowsky after the Nittany Lions’ series against Minnesota.
The Nittany Lions are already thin at center and will miss McLane’s veteran presence and puck-winning ability.
“He came back to his senses and played some of the best hockey we’ve ever seen from him,” Gadowsky said in breaking the news. “The team needs to step up… We’ve done it in the past and we’ll do it again.”
How can a team replace the production and leadership that McLane brought to the ice? For now, the coaching staff is focused on replicating what made the senior so deadly on the faceoff by looking for similar styles of play from deep, most notably Dane Dowiak, Reese Laubach and Carson Dyck.
“Dowiak is a little bit of a smaller package, but I can tell you this: He bench presses his weight 20 times,” Gadowsky said. “He was also a guy who put the puck in the net…He did a good job on faceoffs too.”
The rookie left guard from Pittsburgh began the year on left wing but was forced to switch to center fielder in the last two series. Dowiak was successful in this position in four games and achieved a pass rate of 56% after 66 draws. Although the sample size is small, there is reason to believe Dowiak’s numbers will only improve as he learns the tools of the trade in the coming weeks. The coaching staff sees it that way too.
“It will give Dane a lot of different roles that he may not have had in the past. So we’re excited to see how he does it,” Gadowsky said.
Junior Dyck is next on the shortlist for the vacancy on the roster. The forward had a quiet start to his year, collecting two assists in 14 games for the Nittany Lions. Although he is often relegated to the role of extra skater, his impact on the team is most noticeable on the penalty kill, where his physicality makes him a threat in the defensive zone.
McLane’s position as penalty kill center is perhaps the most important one for Penn State to fill quickly. Dyck’s defensive instincts and ability to win the puck at the circle will need to continue to improve for the Nittany Lions to stop the bleeding on their man-down unit in the bottom 10.
“He’s a right-hand center like Chase, and he kills penalties like Chase. He has similar courage,” Gadowky said. “I think he really needs to improve”
While McLane’s absence will certainly weaken the position in the short term, Gadowsky is still impressed and hopeful by the recent performance of the young players in midfield, especially Laubach.
“He was our best center last weekend…It’s really nice to see because he’s been working on it,” Gadowksy said in praising the San Jose native.
Building on its recent run, the goal will be to advance to the road series against No. 6 Wisconsin this weekend. With six points in his last five appearances, Laubach will be in the spotlight as the team searches for its next top centerman.
While winning the draw isn’t his strongest attribute, the courage and drive Laubach displays on the ice will be a balancing presence at a position that lacks identity while McLane is scratched.
“We’re going to play like the guys who are goGadowksy emphasized at the end of his speech this week. “Whoever can make the PK, the power play, the faceoffs, you’re going to see the guys that are hot.”