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No. 2 Penn State Hockey Travels To No. 13 Ohio State

The second-half of the season begins tonight!

Photo By Heather Weikel
Who: The Ohio State Buckeyes
When: Friday 7 p.m. / Saturday 8 p.m.
Where: Jerome Schottenstein Center, Columbus, Ohio
Video: BTN plus ($)

The Penn State hockey team held the No. 2 position in the PairWise Rankings when it played for the last time in over a month on Dec. 2. Since then other action around the country has moved Guy Gadowsky’s squad into the first position in the rankings that are used to seed the NCAA tournament. A few days ago the Lions settled back into the second spot. This movement is common, as the PairWise Rankings are updated after each game in college hockey is completed.

In the voting polls Penn State has finally moved up to match the PairWise Ranking. Penn State is currently ranked No. 2 in the poll and also the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll. The voters from here on out will cast their ballots almost in unison with the PairWise Rankings, and since the voter polls have no bearing on the NCAA tournament, this will likely be the last time they are mentioned in these parts.

The series this weekend in Columbus could go a long way in the early-season placement of the two teams in the Big Ten standings. There’s a lot of hockey to be played for the Lions; 18 conference games and one non-conference game with a solid Princeton squad.

Let’s get a quick refresher of where the B1G stands and take a look at the Buckeye team.

First Half Quick Recap

The Penn State hockey team has not played a game since it finished off the sweep of Michigan on Dec. 2. That was the first Big Ten series of the year for the Lions, and it set the tone for the second half of the season.

Michigan is reloading this season and it was uncertain which level of play it would put on the ice. With legendary head coach Red Berenson and a roster full of young, talented players, the Wolverines should not be taken lightly. That being said, it appears that teams such as Penn State, Minnesota, and Ohio State all have an edge at this point. Wisconsin is finally coming back to form after a couple of down years but they should not compete for the B1G title. Michigan State still languishes in the cellar of the standings, but the Spartans also have more punch than they did last year.

No. 10 Minnesota has a dozen players on the roster that have been drafted by NHL teams. The Gophers have been consistently excellent in the Big Ten hockey conference era, and this year is no different.

What can be considered somewhat surprising is that the two teams vying for the top spot in the conference along with Minnesota are newcomers to such an accolade. Penn State and Ohio State join the Gophers in the top-15 and are making waves nationally for their stellar play. There is still a great amount of hockey to be played and as we move toward the end of February the pecking order should become more apparent, but for now the two bye positions in the Big Ten tournament appear to be up for grabs between OSU, PSU, and Minnesota.

The three teams are currently in a position where they could make the NCAA tournament as an at-large team should they not leave Detroit with the automatic bid that comes with winning the Big Ten tournament. Should each team spread the wins around evenly with one another as the season plays out, the spots they hold in the PairWise rankings could hold steady to the end. If one team falters versus the other two, it may find itself on the outside looking in for an at-large bid at the end of the season. Add that to the probability that such a team would likely have to play an extra game in the Big Ten tournament, and the stakes between PSU and OSU this weekend are clear.

The final destination for Penn State and Ohio State will not be determined this weekend, but if one of the teams pulls off a sweep, it will establish an early-season pecking order. With the Buckeyes playing at home, anything less than a split would be a letdown.

For Penn State, a sweep would be huge boost. Anything other than getting swept would be considered holding serve on the road in the conference with one of the two serious contenders for what the Lions are seeking; the Big Ten Championship.

Scouting OSU

The Buckeyes have 8 players that have 13 points or more this season. The team scores a lot, 4.44 goals per game, good for third in the nation. Nick Schilkey leads the way with 13 goals and David Gust has scored 11, but the scoring comes from all angles with this team. Penn State scores a nation-leading 4.87 goals per game.

The Buckeyes play a style that is wide-open at times and as a result can allow opposing teams to have odd-man breaks. As a result, teams score an average of three goals per game versus OSU. Penn State is currently third in the nation, allowing 1.87 goals per game. This difference in style of play could prove to be a factor in the final outcome of the series. OSU could run away with a game, scoring freely and forcing PSU to match them. Or PSU could take advantage of the loose OSU defense, then strangle the Buckeyes with their own top-3 defense.

In recent seasons Ohio State has had faster skaters than Penn State. They gained breakaways and broke pursuit angles of defenders with their unique skill of being able to get down the ice faster than most other teams. It created a problem for the Lions, as the team had skill but was still accumulating a roster full of D1-caliber players. This season Penn State has the speed to match the Buckeyes, and a notable advantage in skill, defense and at the goaltender position.

How To Watch PSU Hockey

Both games of the series will be carried on BTN plus, which is a subscription that costs $9.95 per month. Once the frustration of having to pay additional money for BTN content subsides, it may be in your best interest to pay the ransom money. For ten dollars, there are at least five Penn State hockey games carried on the subscription service in the next month. Other Penn State sports are carried as well and so it is pretty easy to recover the money.

I promise that I don’t work for BTN plus, so this sales pitch is geared toward helping PSU hockey fans gain access to the games. BTN plus allows you to watch the games later, pause the games, and watch past events dating back years. It’s also a high-quality stream that can be easily projected to a television.

All of the final hockey games should be available in some form, whether stream or regular tv. Currently there are six games that are set to be televised. That number may increase as the season continues, as it has mid-season in each of the past two years.

For those who are averse to subscribing to BTN plus but are on the fence, this may be the time to give it a try. It could be a very memorable, rewarding experience to follow the hockey team for the next few months.

Has Anyone Seen Casey Bailey Lately?

The first former-Penn State hockey player to make it to the NHL has just been given a major honor in the minor leagues. Bailey was recently named to the AHL All-Star team.

Bailey has had a solid year in the AHL, recording 9 goals and 5 assists through 28 games. He originally skated in the NHL for the first time following the 2014 NCAA hockey season. Last year he did not make it back to the NHL, spending the entire year working to get the chance. This year Bailey was called up to the Ottawa Senators in mid-December and has played in four games at the highest level.

It is obviously a great honor to play in the NHL and that is the goal for most minor-league hockey players. There is another implication, his contract status, effected by Bailey being called up to the NHL. Bailey has now made appearances in two NHL seasons. If he can make it to the NHL in one more season, he will gain status as a ‘Group VI UFA’, basically a preferable status for a veteran player hoping to get to the best NHL path available. Right now Bailey will be a restricted free agent when his current contract expires, which severely limits his mobility in terms of matching up with his potential best career path.

One of Bailey’s strongest stipulations in signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs after leaving the Penn State team was that he would make an appearance at the NHL level in that first year, which would get the ball rolling toward the count. As witnessed by his not making it back last year, his skill probably didn’t warrant that trip to the NHL at that point. The Maple Leafs were struggling and it was the end of the season. They had the spot on the ice to give, and as a result Bailey started his career in Toronto.

So by getting to the NHL a couple of years ahead of schedule, and making it back this year, Bailey is in line to become an unrestricted free agent, or be signed to a better AHL contract by his current team, after next season if he gets the call to the NHL at some point. He’s still just 25 years old. Should he continue to progress with his play on the ice, his age will not be a detriment to his chances of playing for a few years or more in the NHL.

Another positive in making it to the show is that you make NHL money for the games that you play. Bailey’s base salary while playing at the AHL level is $70,000. That’s not too bad for playing the game that you love and with all the perks that come with it. However, his NHL salary is close to a million dollars per year. So when he plays a game with Ottawa, he gets just under $10,000 per night. He’s made $38,850 this year while playing four games with Ottawa to add to his AHL base salary.

It’s great to see Bailey living his dream and representing Penn State hockey at the highest level. He clearly got good advice coming out of PSU to not only sign, leaving with a year of eligibility remaining, but also to accelerate his free agent status instead of going to the highest bidder. Let’s hope that other players coming through the pipeline at Penn State notice the friendly handling of Bailey by coach Gadowsky and company. PSU is now a viable path between high school and the NHL.