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Penn State Hockey Takes On Minnesota

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With the excitement of THON taking place across the street the Lions will host the Golden Gophers in what has become the most critical pair of games this season.

The Roar Zone
The Roar Zone
John Patishnock

When: Friday 6:30 p.m. / Saturday 5 p.m.

Where: Pegula Ice Arena, State College, Pa.

Television: Friday- BTN / Saturday-ESPNU

Stream: BTN2GO.com

Four of the final eight regular season games will be played against the Golden Gophers. With four teams separated by only two points at the top of the B1G standings, every game will be critical. There are times when teams become a little too familiar with one another during a two-game series and the play gets chippy. The series this weekend will be the prelude to what will certainly be a contentious pair of games in Minnesota on the final weekend of regular season play. The teams know that the outcome of this four-game series over the next month will likely determine the tournament placement for each.

Minnesota and Penn State find the back of the net at a very high rate, with each team in the top-ten in scoring nationally. The Gophers out-scored Michigan 8-2 last weekend in route to a critical series sweep. The Lions struggled against Michigan State, only able to score two goals while losing the pair of games in East Lansing. With the scoring ability on both sides and the propensity to put shots on net, the difference in this series may come down to goal-tending, fifty shades of save.

Getting To Know The Gophers

The 2013-14 season for the Gophers was a steady crescendo that climaxed with a dramatic game-winning goal in the Frozen Four. With 0.4 seconds remaining on the clock it defeated archrival North Dakota to advance to the championship game where it lost to Union. This season has not lived up to expectations for many fans of the team.

Minnesota returned all but two skaters that had a major impact on the ice last season. Adam Wilcox, one of the premier goalies in the country, has returned for his junior season. The season started as expected with the Gophers near the top spot in the polls for the first two months.

On November 9th the Gophers completed a sweep of Notre Dame. The pair of wins brought the team's record to 7-1, which wasn't a surprise to anyone in the college hockey world. It was at this point that trouble started for the team from Minneapolis. It would go 4-9-2 over the next fifteen games. Many of the losses in this period were to highly-ranked teams but the cumulative effect had Gopher fans reeling.

The team has been trending upward since the low-point on January 31st. Since that point the Gophers have turned things around to the tune of an undefeated 5-0-1 record. Included in the run is a sweep last weekend over a very hot Michigan team. In the first game against the Wolverines a hat-trick from Kyle Rau put an exclamation point on a 6-2 win. The second game was a shut-out that featured another goal by Rau, a Hobey Baker award nominee.

The shutout win can be attributed mostly to goalie Adam Wilcox. The skaters on each side were noticeably weary after a high-energy battle the previous night. Wilcox only had 26 saves but was able to make a goal by Seth Ambroz, scored four minutes in, hold up for the entire game. Rau scored an empty-netter with eleven seconds left in the game. Performances such as this are the reason many consider Wilcox to be among the best in all of college hockey.

Kyle Rau is a player that will draw a great deal of attention from the Lions this weekend. Generously listed at 5'8" in the program, he is likely that tall while wearing skates and full pads. A quick, nimble skater, he has scored 13 goals to go along with 17 assists this season. Six of the goals have come on the power play, so it is a good idea for PSU to get the penalty bug that set them back last weekend under control. Rau is not afraid to mix things up physically when he is the one initiating contact but has been accused of over-exaggerating hits when he has the puck. For this he has drawn many penalties and also the ire of hockey purists that do not like it when a player overreacts to a hit.

In addition to Rau, the Gophers feature eight players that have tallied 16 or more points on the season. Defensemen Mike Reilly has five goals and 27 assists to lead the team with 32 points. Travis Boyd is tied with Rau for the team lead in goals with 13. Taylor Cammarata has been hot lately, scoring 8 points in five games before being held scoreless in the second game of the Michigan series. Fifteen out of 24 players on Minnesota's team have been drafted by the NHL, so there is plenty of talent on the roster.

THON Weekend

The 46-hour THON dance marathon kicks-off a half-hour before the first hockey game on Friday night. The team has consistently taken part in the student-run initiative in years past. Coach Guy Gadowsky shared his feelings earlier this week.

You can feel THON. You love the student body and what they do. You just become so invested in the university. I’m so proud of them. THON just makes me so proud to be a part of this university.

The entire team is involved in THON and after the game on Saturday the team will head across the street to the Bryce Jordan Center to take part in the festivities. Here's a picture from the 2013 THON featuring the team's THON child Colton Buckley.

NOTES:

  • Check out this awesome feature story about the music at Penn State sporting events by BSD's Evan Romano in the Daily Collegian.
  • The comment section of this article will be used as the open-thread discussion during the Friday night game.
  • The student section will be populated mostly by THON families this weekend. Many students who are taking part in THON and are not able to attend the games have donated their tickets. The players have stated that while the atmosphere may be a little different without the wall of students, they will play hard for their very special guests.