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Preview/Open Thread: Penn State Hockey Takes On Minnesota

The Lions have plenty of room on the bandwagon. Hop aboard for the final weekend of the regular-season and enjoy the ride.

Photo by Ricky Bortz

When: Friday 8 p.m. eastern/ Saturday 8 p.m. eastern

Where: Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Television: Friday-American Sports Network/ Saturday-Fox Sports North+


Heading into the final weekend of the regular season the Lions are in a position that was not expected at the start of the season- with a chance to win the Big Ten regular season title. The team also has a solid chance to grab a bye in the first round of the conference tournament by securing one of the top two spots in the regular season-standings.

If Penn State is unable to garner one of the bye positions in the post-season tournament all hope is not lost. The team has shown that there is reason to believe that it could make a run and win three games in a row. The winner of the Big Ten tournament will gain an automatic birth into the NCAA hockey tournament.

The Nittany Lions have never won in Mariucci Arena against the Golden Gophers. However, this season has been full of firsts for the team. It is the first winning season in division one program history. This is the first time Penn State has ever had a winning season in conference play. It beat Minnesota for the first time three weeks ago. The team recorded the first series sweep since moving to division one in October and since has added four more. With one more series sweep the Lions will take the first day of the Big Ten tournament off, relaxing while four other teams risk elimination and injury.

With the first series win against Minnesota, the team would likely be granted a first-round bye in conference tournament.

Big Ten Tournament Seeding Scenarios

Conference Games Overall
1. Michigan State 34 18 10 6 2 2 42 36 32 16 14 2 77 70
2. Michigan 33 18 11 7 0 0 82 55 32 19 13 0 126 96
Minnesota 33 18 10 5 3 0 70 52 34 19 12 3 118 90
4. Penn State 31 18 10 7 1 0 60 55 34 18 12 4 116 99
5. Ohio State 21 18 7 11 0 0 52 69 32 12 18 2 91 111
6. Wisconsin 10 18 2 14 2 2 32 71 32 4 24 4 56 120
Updated through all games of March 12th.

As you can see, there are many scenarios that could unfold over the weekend. We can start by stating the absolutes. Wisconsin and Ohio State face-off this weekend for a pair of games in Madison. Wisconsin will finish 6th in the final regular season Big Ten standings and Ohio State will grab the 5th seed. That will not change no matter how the series plays out.

With Penn State playing two at Mariucci Arena against the Gophers and Michigan and Michigan State playing a home-and-away series, one thing is certain. In each of the two series if there is a sweep the team that wins will be assured a top-two spot in the Big Ten tournament.

From there scenarios are many so we'll keep it to Penn State's most likely scenarios. If the Lions win two games the team will earn a bye. If Penn State loses a game, it will not finish in a top-two spot. If Penn State ties the game on Friday night the team will hold hopes of finishing in a bye position Saturday night.

The tie-breaker if teams end in a tie in the final standings is Big Ten wins. Under the scenarios that could take place to determine 2nd and 3rd place Penn State would win most tie-breakers. The Lions have a great chance to finish in a bye position.

Teams that do not receive a first-round bye will be forced to take on Wisconsin or Ohio State on Thursday, March 19, day one of the Big Ten tournament in Detroit's Joe Louis Arena. Each of the cellar-dweller teams could win a game or two in the tournament. A higher seeding will not be much of an advantage for the teams that play on the first day of the tournament. Ohio State has surged to a 5-3 record over the last month of Big Ten play including a sweep of PSU. The Buckeyes own a 3-1 record over PSU this year. The Lions have a 4-0 record over Wisconsin this season. That would suggest that finishing 3rd, while missing out on a bye, is the best spot for Guy Gadowsky's squad in the event that it plays on the first day of the tournament.

The best part of the 'what ifs' is that when the puck drops at 8 p.m. eastern time on Saturday night for game two of the series all other conference games will be over. The task in front of the team will be known at the start of the game. Fans will watch knowing the ramifications of all outcomes.

Since We Last Met

Penn State beat Minnesota for the first time in program history two-weeks ago on Saturday of THON weekend. Since that loss the Gophers have split two series, first against Michigan State and last weekend on the road versus Ohio State. In each of the past two weekends it has won the first game and lost the second. The Lions will have to come ready to play in game one on Friday night.

The team dominates on the big ice in Mariucci arena, having a 12-3-1 record this year. NHL and most college hockey ice sheets including Pegula Ice Arena are a standard 200-feet by 80-feet. The ice in Minnesota is 200-feet by 100 feet, the largest dimensions allowed. The larger ice favors faster teams such as the Gophers and makes power plays that much more critical. The Gophers are one of the best power-play teams in the country and it likes to dive to the ice frequently while trying to gain a man advantage. It will be critical for the Lions to stay out of the penalty box this weekend.

Mike Reilly continues an amazing season, leading the team with 38 points and an astounding +18. His goals scored (6) and assists (32) lead the nation for scoring from a defensive player. Kyle Rau and Travis Boyd have contributed 34 points apiece as the focal-point of the offensive thrust. Four other Gophers have tallied ten or more goals this season so the team has plenty of fire-power.

Adam Wilcox will be between the pipes. The junior goalie and Tampa Bay Lightening draft pick has been nominated for the Mike Richter award, given to the nation's top goalie. While the goals against average is higher than it was the past two seasons (2.54), the goalie is arguably the toughest PSU has faced all season. With obscene goals against averages in the first two years (1.88 and 1.97) the upward bump this season can be attributed to the play in front of Wilcox.


  • The Gophers have been swept twice this season. The first was a home-and-away series with Minnesota-Duluth and the other was on the road versus Michigan.
  • The Lions arrived in Minnesota early on Thursday and will have ample time to recover from the short flight.
  • The comment section of this article will be used as the open thread discussion during the game. Come in and join us.
  • Check out the final installment of the Penn State Hockey Story!