|Who:||Notre Dame Fighting Irish|
|When:||Friday 7:35 p.m / Saturday 7:05 p.m.|
|Where:||Compton Family Ice Arena, Notre Dame, IN|
|TV:||Friday CSN Chicago+ / Saturday NBCSN|
|Free Stream:||Friday NBCSports.com and WatchND / Saturday WatchND|
|Stats:||Live Stats at Collegehockeyinc.com|
As the football team prepares to take on the highest-ranked team on its schedule, the hockey team is doing the same. This difficult series on the road versus the Fighting Irish will provide the Lions a chance for an early-season statement. Should the team win one or more of the games, it will skyrocket in the rankings and grab national attention. It will also provide fans in Hockey Valley and elsewhere the first chance to see the team on television. On Friday night the game will be shown on CSN Chicago+ and on Saturday the game will be broadcast on NBCSN. In addition to the television exposure, the games are being streamed on two high-quality providers.
Penn State’s rivalry with Notre Dame has grown largely on the turf of a football field, though the two have not played one another since 2007. This weekend fans of the two schools will get a sample of how that rivalry will play out on the ice. The teams split last season’s series that was played in State College.
The conference announced in March that the Fighting Irish will move from the Hockey East conference to become the seventh Big Ten ice hockey program in 2017-18.
Knowing the Irish will be a conference opponent next season adds a level of excitement that was not present when the two teams faced off last October. Coach Guy Gadowsky tried on Monday to downplay just how much excitement it will add.
“They’re a great program whether they’re coming to the Big Ten or not,” he said. “Because you know that soon they’re going to be in the league, it adds a little bit and I’m sure it’s going to be rocking down there.”
Sophomore Chase Berger seemed more enthused at the idea of a greater rivalry between the two programs.
“I think it will definitely amp the rivalry up, just because we know we’ll be seeing them a lot,” he said.
Freshman Nate Sucese, looking on a broader perspective, acknowledged the impact the addition will have on the Big Ten conference as a whole.
“I think it will also make the conference a lot stronger, bringing in a top-five team in the nation,” he said. “Playing them four times next year will help us and every other team out in the PairWise rankings.”
The PairWise rankings serve as one of the best indicators of which teams will receive at-large bids into the National Tournament. The six conference winners receive an automatic spot, leaving 10 openings to be fought for. Defeating stronger opponents gives teams a greater chance of earning those coveted spots.
The No. 3 Irish boast one of the top offenses with 4.75 goals per game. Their top scorer, junior Anders Bjork, leads the nation with 10 points through four games.
Despite the intimidating numbers, Gadowsky is excited to face the challenge, but doesn’t feel their offense is what sets the Irish apart from other opponents.
“We’re looking forward to this,” he said. “I think their real strength is…boy, they don’t give you much. They don’t have breakdowns. You really have to work for what you get.”
Even if the Lions find themselves with a rare scoring chance, they still have to face one of the best goaltenders in the nation in Cal Petersen. While his numbers have dropped slightly from last season, Petersen still has the ability to steal a game for his team.
As a freshman, Petersen set an NCAA record with 87 saves in a quintuple overtime loss to UMass. Last season, he finished second in the nation to Boston College standout Thatcher Demko in total saves with 1,049.
Despite facing their toughest test in net, the Lions will not change their approach on offense to accommodate for Petersen’s style of play.
“We’re not going to change what we do,” Gadowsky said. “We just have to make sure we do it very consistently and do it well.”
Penn State plays an uptempo style that features one of the highest shot totals in the country annually. This year the Lions trail only RIT for the lead, netting 42.67 shots on goal per game. Notre Dame is only two spots below, averaging 37.25. Each team scores at high rates as a result, with Notre Dame averaging 4.75 goals per game, which puts them fourth-best in the nation. The Lions are one spot below with an average of 4.67 goals per game.
Each team likes to shoot the puck, each team scores frequently. Both teams have young, talented goalies. It should be a very fun series.