The Penn State hockey team is coming off a series split with American International that has some of its fans scratching their heads. How could the Lions lose to a team that is projected to place at the bottom of the national rankings? It’s hockey, that’s how. Sometimes the puck bounces strange and sometimes the refs act strange, too. Last weekend, it was Guy Gadowsky’s squad that wasn’t quite right, not any uncontrollable circumstances.
The Lions earned a victory on Friday night but did not finish the game solid, allowing a few unnecessary late goals. On Saturday, that lack of sharpness ultimately cost the team the game, losing late in overtime. It’s nice that the program is at a level where a series sweep versus a team like AIC is expected, but we should remember that this is still a young team.
This weekend the Wolverines come to Hockey Valley, and while it would be nice to win the series, a split would not be disappointing at all. Both games will be available via BTN Plus subscription. While it is a pain in the neck to have to pay the $9.95 per month fee, a fan will be able to see roughly six or so hockey games and other sports such as wrestling and basketball for that one-month shot. After the first semester, most of the games will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.
The Wolverines began the season with a win versus St. Lawrence and a loss to Clarkson, exactly as the Lions started. After taking a week off, Michigan swept Vermont in Ann Arbor, bringing their record to 3-1 early in the season.
Mel Pearson took over for the legendary coach Red Berenson who retired following last season. While Pearson is in a retooling period for the program, it is not fair to call it a rebuilding stage. The majority of the players on the team are upperclassmen, with a great deal of experience in Big Ten play. The younger players are very talented, but this early in the season it is unlikely that the team has gelled as a cohesive unit.
The Nittany Lions were without Kevin Kerr for the second consecutive weekend and Evan Barratt for the fifth straight game last weekend. It may come down to the wire before coach Guy Gadowsky knows whether either player will be back in the lineup against the Wolverines.
“They’re all day-to-day. I hope to get guys back, but I don’t know,” Gadowsky said. “I won’t know until probably Thursday.” And we won’t know until about an hour prior to the drop of the puck on Friday night, when the lines for the game are shared.
The USCHO.com poll does not have any impact on the post-season placement of the teams, but it is the best current guess of which teams are where in terms of pecking order early in the season. The poll this week has three Big Ten teams in the top 8 spots (Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Minnesota) and Penn State came in at No. 15, giving the conference a healthy representation. Looking a little down the rankings, numbers 21 and 22 are Ohio State and Michigan. So at this point in the season, six out of seven Big Ten teams are ranked in the top 22. Again, the poll is a best-guess at this point, but by the best guess, the Big Ten is wide open this year and full of top-end programs. Every team other than Sparty is expected to do well this year, as MSU is in the second year of a rebuilding effort that could take a couple additional years to pay off on the ice.
The PairWise Ranking will ultimately decide which teams make the NCAA tournament, not the polls. It is important to remember that it is very likely that at least three B1G teams will make the tournament, and possibly four. If Penn State remains in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten regular-season standings, it should be enough for the team to stay in the hunt for a tournament birth all year long.
Penn State Hockey Story
It has been very difficult in the past to follow the team if you are not able to attend the games in person. This season there are a great deal of online-streamed games and also television coverage is up close to 50% over last season, and could increase as the year plays out. Another great way to keep up with the team is the very well-done series Penn State Hockey Story. Here’s the first installment of the year.