When: Friday 7 p.m. / Saturday 3 p.m.
Where: Pegula Ice Arena, State College, Pa.
Television coverage: None.
Stream: BTN Plus ($)
The Lions are coming off a very disappointing two-game series loss in Columbus, Ohio. With the team struggling to a 1-5 record in the past six games, this weekend has become critical. One win over the final four conference games versus Michigan and Minnesota would give the young program the first winning season since joining division one hockey. A free fall this weekend would put a damper on some of the success that the team enjoyed earlier in the year.
The team will be playing without Taylor Holstrom this weekend, and likely the remainder of the season. Coach Guy Gadowsky mentioned earlier in the week that Holstrom is still unable to put weight on the injured foot and not to expect him back before the season ends. This would mean that the team leader in assists (26) will have to be replaced on the Chipotline alongside Casey Bailey and David Goodwin.
So naturally Gadowsky announced that Tommy Olczyk will step in for Holstrom. After all, the senior and former captain has had zero assists this year to go with seven goals. Olczyk has six assists in 89 career games at PSU. While the statistical differentiation between Holstrom and Tommy is as severe as it gets the move makes sense. Instead of re-working several lines to compensate for the vacancy in the first line, Gadowsky is simply moving one player.
Olczyk will not be honored along with the other seven senior players during Saturday's Senior Day ceremonies. It is likely that he will return to the team next year as he has one more year of eligibility remaining.
The coach had this to say about the loss of Holstrom earlier this week.
We need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves. We have to get over it. We all have to step up and fill the void.
The void is too big for one player to step in and fill. A team effort will be necessary if the Lions are to move forward. No team has a player waiting in the wings that is capable of replacing the production that Holstrom has provided. If it did that player would have been on the ice already. Penn State is trading one of the best players, one of the best leaders, for a player that has seen very little ice time.
The players that are going to have to step into more productive roles are Max Gardiner, Ricky DeRosa, Zach Saar, Curtis Loik and James Robinson. The second line remains intact with Scheid, Conway, and Richard.
The second line has played so well in recent times that it could step in at this point and lead the way, picking up the slack for the re-adjusting first line. That leaves players like Loik and Glen on the third line ready to step up as well. Looking at statistics, Loik has not had an exceedingly productive year. When watching the games, it is clear that he has played with a great deal of energy this season. With six goals and eleven assists while playing mostly on the third line his stat sheet isn't empty by any means but still it does not illustrate the contribution the 6'1" 215 pound junior has made. There have been many times when his energy on the third line has bridged the gap between the top lines, and the opposing team was unable to regroup.
Since We Last Met
When Penn State last faced-off against Michigan (19-11-0) in Ann Arbor it was November 22nd. The two-game series on Friday night and Saturday night was sandwiched around a PSU football loss against Illinois. The Lions came into the first game of the series riding a high after having split a pair on the road against then top-five ranked UMass-Lowell and owning a 6-2-2 record in the early going of the season.
A lot has changed in the past three and a half months. At the time the teams last competed, Michigan was struggling unexpectedly with a 6-5 record and the Lions were surging. Following the series opener loss to the Lions, the team would rip off an amazing 11-1-0 record over the next twelve games. From that point the Wolverines have remained near or at the top of the B1G standings and have been close to a top 16 spot in the PairWise rankings. As it stands heading into the series, the team is tied for 15th in the rankings that determine which teams will be awarded an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament. The position may prove to be good enough to earn a bid. It is also possible that the final couple of teams in the top 16 could get bumped out of the field of 16 should a team outside the rankings win the conference tournament and gain an auto bid.
The remaining four games on Michigan's schedule are critical. The team can gain a bye in the first round of the B1G tourney and also assure a spot in the NCAA tournament with a strong finish. With a weak finish in the last two weeks of the regular season the team could end up in a similar spot as it finished last season, just outside the top 16 pairwise rankings and home for the tournament. This would be a very disappointing scenario for the team and so it is expected that the games this weekend will be fiercely contested.
Dylan Larkin has 40 points for the team as a freshman and Zach Hyman found a groove during his senior year for a Big Ten-leading 47 points. Each player has 28 assists, two more than injured PSU center Taylor Holstrom.
The Wolverines are the highest scoring team in the country, netting four goals per game on average. Zach Nagelvort and Steve Racine platoon between the pipes and have had similar results statistically this season. Michigan has scored fewer than three goals in all but two of its eleven losses this season. It is much more realistic to attempt to hold down the scoring of this team than it is to attempt to outscore it.
- Seven senior players will be honored prior to the game on Saturday. Taylor Holstrom, Patrick Koudys, Jacob Freidman, Max Gardiner, PJ Musico, Peter Sweetland, and Nate Jensen will all be acknowledged on Senior Day.
- Michigan (19-11-0) is the only team in division one hockey that has not tied a game this season.
- The comment section of this article will be used as the open-thread conversation during the game on Friday. As the game is not televised, we will attempt to provide a thorough account of the game is it unfolds.
- Remember this game winning-goal by Zach Saar in double-overtime last season? A year ago the Lions sent Michigan home for the year with an unexpected win in the Big Ten tournament. A sweep for the home team this weekend could put Michigan's back against the wall in the conference tournament this year.