It's pretty difficult to project the quality of opponents prior to the start of the season. The Lions have a pair against American International (AIC) that will probably end up being the softest opponent on the schedule. AIC won only four games last season and are not expected to make much of a jump in the rankings next season. Princeton is on the schedule for a single game on December 11 in State College. While Princeton had a disappointing year, winning the same number of games as last-place AIC, the Tigers may prove to be a solid opponent.
The Three Rivers Classic, played on December 29 and 30 at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, will feature a very solid four-team field. As is always the case, Robert Morris and Penn State will be there. Clarkson and Massachusetts-Lowell will be there as well. Clarkson finished last season ranked #44 in the Pairwise rankings and plays in the ECAC. Massachusetts-Lowell is a perennial national contender out of the Hockey East and is coming off a disappointing year that saw the team finish one spot out of the national tournament.
The team is making another trip back to Alaska, this time playing a pair against Alaska-Anchorage. Last year the Lions played in the Brice Alaska Goal Rush, facing off against both Alaska and Alaska-Anchorage. While the trip is long and demanding, it is a very strategic play for the program. Guy Gadowsky coached for five seasons at Alaska-Fairbanks and is in the school's hall of fame. Also the state of Alaska is fertile recruiting ground. The timing of the trip is much better for the team than it was last season. A year ago the trip came at the beginning of the season and it took the team a while to recover. This season when the team returns from Alaska it will play only one game over the next two weeks, in Philadelphia against Vermont in the Wells Fargo Center.
A pair of single-game series on the road against Canisius and Niagara are also great opportunities for the team. Recruiting in New York is going to be important for the program moving forward.
With two games against Sacred Heart the Icers will have played all but three of the Atlantic Hockey conference teams over the past two years. It's important to play against as many teams and in as many venues as possible in order to gain exposure for the young program.
Games two and three of the season will be played at home against Notre Dame. Last season the Golden Domers finished just one spot ahead of the Lions in the Pairwise rankings at #32. The pair of games on October 16 and 17 will kick off a four-year series between the teams.
Another intriguing match-up will be against St. Lawrence on October 29 and 30 in State College. St. Lawrence finished 21st in the Pairwise rankings last season and competes in the ECAC. The series will be played on Thursday and Friday as the football team plays on Saturday at home against Illinois. For the second year in a row Halloween weekend will be the only overlap where the hockey and football teams play in Happy Valley.
The Lions will play at home and on the road against the five other Big Ten teams as is always the case. Unlike last season the team will only have one B1G match-up prior to Winter break. Last year the team split a pair with Michigan on the road and then swept Wisconsin on the road prior to the break. This season the team has only a pair with Michigan State in University Park on December 4th and 5th. Playing at home will be an advantage, although MSU is going to come into the season as a front-runner in the league.
Four of the final five conference series will be played on the road. That is a huge challenge for the team and fan-base. The Michigan series will be played with one game at Pegula Ice Arena on Thursday and then the second game will be played on Saturday at Madison Square Garden. The game in MSG will be part of a PSU hoops and hockey double-header played on January 30. The final series of the year will be played in Ann Arbor during Michigan's spring break. For the past couple of years PSU has played at home during spring break and the atmosphere without of full compliment of students negated the home-ice advantage.
The team will play only two games after January 28 at home, a pair against Ohio State February 19 and 20. Thankfully the match-up will overlap with THON weekend, which will make the series an electric finale to the home schedule. The team had a great showing at THON a few months ago after polishing off Minnesota on Saturday afternoon.