The Penn State hockey team returns home after two very challenging weekends on the road to begin the season. After splitting with Clarkson and St. Lawrence in New York on opening weekend, the team traveled to the most difficult place to grab a road win in Big Ten play, Minnesota. The Lions were able to split with the Gophers, securing only the second win in program history at Mariucci Arena on Friday night.
The team returned to Hockey Valley from Minnesota following a Friday and Sunday series at about 3 a.m. on Monday morning. Having classes to attend that day, the players were not given much time to rest. Add to that the early start to the series this week, due to the massive football match-up with Michigan on Saturday, and the fans will need to give the team all the support they can to keep the players’ legs fresh on the ice.
Prior to the start of the game on Thursday night the returning Big Ten Champions will take to the ice for the ceremonial raising of the banners that it achieved last season; one for winning the Big Ten Tournament and one for making an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Let’s hope that the acoustics inside the arena aren’t negatively affected by the new obstructions hanging from the speaker-box metal rafters. We wouldn’t want to detract from the experience inside the Peg.
Coach Guy Gadowsky spoke about the magical ambience inside his home arena earlier in the week.
The area that really separates us honestly is the atmosphere at Pegula, starting with the Roar Zone. It truly is the best in college hockey and that’s a really significant statement. That’s a statement that, it’s not only in terms of fun, it’s extremely motivating for our guys. It’s part of our record at home and it’s also a big part of how well we’ve been able to recruit. College-aged young men love to see that. It’s inspiring. It’s fun. The honest truth is it makes me very grateful to be a part of this.
In addition to the excitement of the first series of the year at home, and the raising of the banners, the campus is electric with the build-up surrounding the football game this weekend. This is what coach Gadowsky had to say about the hoopla surrounding the game on Saturday.
I’m so pumped. I really want to see all of this. I’m excited. We have a game Thursday and then after that we have a game Friday. Once that’s done this is a very exciting weekend for Penn State and it’s going to be a blast. I’m pumped to be a part of this.
It was mentioned during the interviews with the players that many family members of the team have tickets to the football game. All of the team has tickets as well, so keep an eye out for them!
The very first game that Penn State played as a member of Division 1 college hockey came against the American International Yellow Jackets on October 12, 2012. It was played inside Greenberg Pavillion in front of 1,300 fans since the Pegula Ice Arena opened a year later. The Lions fell 3-2 that night but got the first goal in program history by Casey Bailey. That was almost exactly five years ago but it seems like a lifetime has passed since then.
Maybe not a lifetime has gone by, but a new generation of Penn State players has taken the ice. For the first few seasons the team was made up of great students, hard-working athletes, who for the most part would not have the talent to play on any other NCAA hockey team besides the upstart Lions. There were exceptions, such as the previously mentioned Casey Bailey who left PSU with a year of eligibility remaining to become the first player from Hockey Valley to reach the NHL. Matt Skoff started in net in the first game in program history and went on to have a long, solid career for Guy Gadowsky. Nate Jensen assisted on Bailey’s first goal and Taylor Holstrom scored as well that night, each player had memorable Penn State careers.
Now American International comes to Hockey Valley to face a roster full of highly-recruited players from all over the world. The past three incoming classes of new players has brought a wave talent to the roster, most notably the sophomores that led the nation in scoring by a freshman class last year, along with Peyton Jones in net.
AIC has not changed much in the past years in terms of their positioning near the bottom of the NCAA standings annually. That sounds harsh, but it’s true. The program has only won more than ten games in a season once since 1992, and that was in 1998 when it won 11 games.
Penn State last faced AIC in October of 2015, sweeping the series at the Pegula Ice Arena with an 8-3 win followed by a 5-3 win. Much of the same is expected this week. It would be a deep disappointment for the Penn State fans and team were it not able to sweep the series. It is hockey, however, and the puck acts funny sometimes and so too do the refs, to paraphrase a sentiment from Guy Gadowsky.
The Lions cannot simply throw their gear out on the ice and expect to walk away with a pair of wins, but if the team asserts itself and plays as well as it has in the first four games of the season, it should walk away with two home wins.
AIC has scored 10 goals and given up 19 along the way to its 0-4-1 start to the season. If the Lions can pour on some goals early in the games it should be nearly impossible for the Yellow Jackets to keep up offensively. Should the games remain low-scoring into the final period, that would favor AIC, and it would not be the type of atmosphere inside the Peg that coach Gadowsky would want on opening weekend, leading up the the football game versus Michigan on Saturday.