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Penn State Hockey Preview: Nittany Lions Face Wisconsin in Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals

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It's Big Ten Tournament time!

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Who: University of Wisconsin
When: Thursday 5:00 p.m. EST
Where: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, MN.
TV: Big Ten Network
Stream: Audio: Fri+Sat
Live Stats: Gopsusports.com


It's here! The Big Ten Tournament starts today as Penn State (20-12-4) is set to do battle against Wisconsin (8-18-8) in the quarterfinals. After a disappointing showing last year in the tournament when the Nittany Lions got unseated by Ohio State in the first round, Penn State is looking to do better against a club they've had success against this season.

Penn State holds a 3-1 record over Wisconsin this year, with their lone loss coming on March 5 after the Nittany Lions couldn't pull off a three-goal rally. The Badgers have been a thorn in the side of more than a few teams in the Big Ten this season, as they've tied or won games against every team in the conference despite their poor record.

Even though Penn State holds the No. 3 seed in the tournament and have been strong against the Badgers for most of the season, they cannot look past No. 6 Wisconsin and ahead to the waiting Michigan Wolverines in the semifinals. The scrappy Badgers have shown they're able to pick off teams that overlook them, and they already did it once to the Nittany Lions earlier this month.

Still, Penn State has the advantage here. Wisconsin is young and has many players that are not used to a tournament setting, even one almost as new as they are. The Nittany Lions depth outmatches Wisconsin's and Penn State will probably have some fire as they need to win this tournament to get a bid to the NCAA tournament. Especially coming off of two huge losses against the Wolverines last weekend, Penn State will -- hopefully -- come into this tournament with something to prove, that their historic season wasn't a fluke.

The Badgers themselves look essentially the same since we took a look at them a few weeks ago. The team's top goal scorers in junior Grant Besse and freshman Ryan Wagner have added a few points since, with both now above the 30 point threshold on the year. Freshman Luke Kunin leads the team with 18 goals and his five power play goals is a team high, tied with Wagner.

Freshman netminder Matt Jurusik should also get the start in net for the Badgers and in doing so, will probably eclipse 2,000 minutes on the year. His .893 save percentage and 3.44 GAA is sub-par, but he's come up big in many situations across the season so don't count him as the team's weak link.

This, however, might be the last game for Badger head coach Mike Eaves should Wisconsin lose. Last time out, we wrote:

With the success [Eaves] has had in the last 10 years at the helm, it's a mystery why this season has been such a drop off for the Badgers. The senior turnover from last season was pretty large -- as there are just five upperclassmen on the team this year -- but a high class program like Wisconsin shouldn't have a problem bringing in viable recruits.

There's a lot riding on this game for both teams, so there's not a lack of intrigue heading into the first round of the tournament. If Penn State can keep their opponent in check, there's no reason they shouldn't be able to get past the Badgers and on to Michigan in the next round!

Notes

  • Penn State has a 1-2 record in the Big Ten Tournament. They faced Wisconsin after their upset over Michigan in 2014 and lost to the Badgers 2-1.
  • Eamon McAdam and Vince Pedrie were both named to All-Big Ten Teams earlier this week. It's the first time Penn State has had two players garner the honors in the same year.
  • This is probably the last time I'll get to do a preview unless Penn State makes it out of this tournament so it's been a pleasure covering the team this season! The inimitable Chris Taylor will lead the coverage through the weekend!