Coach Guy Gadowsky's team is coming off a series win against Michigan State, leaving it in first place in the current B1G standings. The pair of games this weekend will be the final two-game series in PSU's non-conference schedule. The non-conference slate will conclude next weekend with a single game against #12 Vermont in the Philadelphia College Hockey Face-off.
Following the three non-conference games, Penn State will enter the stretch-run of the B1G conference schedule. While being in first place is always nice, the team has many great challenges facing it in the near-future. The three non-conference games are important both for PSU and the B1G. Should the Lions win two or more games, the entire conference will get a boost in the PairWise rankings. There are few opportunities remaining for B1G teams to defeat non-B1G teams.
Scouting The Opponent
Northern Michigan (9-8-5) is rated a very respectable 27th in the PairWise rankings. The team plays in the WCHA hockey league that includes #1 Minnesota State. The Wildcats are coming off a disappointing series against Alabama-Huntsville where the team was swept in a two-game series last weekend. The weekend prior N.Michigan had the best series of the year with a tie at home and a win on the road against Michigan Tech during a home and away series. Michigan Tech is currently ranked tenth in the country and spent a good portion of the early season at #1.
The Wildcats are one of the larger teams in the country. In a battle of girth on girth, this would be a toss-up. It may be able to match Penn State's size but should not be to match the skill level that the Lions have displayed. N.Michigan scores 2.09 goals per game on average and also allows 2.09 goals per game. The game-plan is similar to the one employed by Michigan State. The team wants to keep the game low-scoring with a focus on protecting red-shirt sophomore goalie Mathias Dahlstrom. He owns a record of 9-6-3 on the year and allows only 2.01 goals per game.
The team came out of the gate red-hot this year posting a 7-1-1 record in the first nine games, including a season opening series sweep over Wisconsin. The fast start saw the team climb to #17 in the USCHO rankings.
Since around Thanksgiving the Wildcats have struggled to a 2-7-4 record. It managed a 1-1-2 record in consecutive series with WCHA top-ten ranked Michigan Tech and Minnesota State, which has helped it remain near the top 25 in the PairWise rankings. N.Michigan has struggled in the past two months but has shown that it is still a very cagey opponent, able to beat any team in the country.
The Wildcats have a 6-0-1 record when leading after one period, and a 1-5-1 record when trailing after one period. The Lion's challenge is similar this week to what it was against Michigan State, it needs to score first and find a way to get to three goals.
Coach Walt Kyle took the reigns of the squad in 2002 and is only the second coach in the program's 39 year history in division one hockey. Kyle led the team to the NCAA tournament in 2010 but this year it's beginning to look like the team is going to need to win the WHCA tournament in order to go ice-dancing.
It's uncertain as to whether the team will have to make the stretch-run without the longtime head coach. Kyle was placed on administrative leave on Tuesday and will not make the trip to State College. The team will be coached by John Kyle (Walt's brother) and Rob Lehtinen, the two top assistant coaches.
- Saturday's game will feature Penn State's THON uniforms and a teddy bear toss after the second intermission. The teddy bears will be donated to THON families and the uniforms will be auctioned off with the proceeds going to THON.
- The comment section of this article will be used as the in-game open-thread conversation. Follow along or join the conversation. The more the merrier.
- Casey Bailey is currently 6th in the voting for the Hobey Baker award, college hockey's version of the Heisman Award. You can vote for Casey once per day here. Voting closes in a little over two days.
- Check out the fifth installment of the Penn State Hockey story.