The Penn State men’s hockey team will begin defending its Big Ten Championship this weekend in Minnesota. Both games of the series will be televised on Fox Sports North, the first on Friday night at 8 p.m. eastern time and the second on Sunday at 4 p.m.
This past weekend the team began its non-conference schedule on the road versus Clarkson on Friday night, losing 2-1. On Saturday night the team traveled to St. Lawrence, where it picked up the first win of the season, outlasting the Skating Saints 4-1.
Here are the grainy highlights of the goals on Saturday. While it is hard to see the details, we are able to see the broad strokes. In the first goal of the night, sophomore Kris Myllari steps up from his left defensive position, and is left all alone for the easy finish. The second goal is Denis Smirnov, gliding effortlessly across the goalie, out-maneuvering his attempt to poke-check the puck away, then tucking the biscuit calmly into the basket so as not to damage the hot buttery treat.
On the third goal Smirnov feeds Liam Folkes for the finish. Smirnov got his second assist of the night, and third point of the game, passing to Nate Sucese for the empty-net goal to ice the game. Smirnov is off to a hot start with three points in two games after leading the nation in freshman scoring last season.
It was very important for the Lions to gain at least one victory in the two-game road start to the season. This week Guy Gadowsky’s squad will travel to the unfriendly confines of Mariucci Arena. The Gophers lost just two conference games at home last season and swept the Lions 4-0 during the regular season. Penn State recovered in the Big Ten tournament, however, dropping the Gophers 4-3 in double-overtime to clinch its first NCAA Tournament birth, advancing to the Big Ten Championship.
With the loss on opening night, a second loss to St. Lawrence would have made the probability high for the team to start 0-4 on the season. Now, with a win in its pocket, the team can travel to Minnesota hoping to grab a conference win on the road, maybe two, with the pressure of and o-fer start alleviated.
The Penn State team began the season with a ranking of No. 10 in the USCHO.com poll. This week the team came in at No. 11. The poll has no impact on the teams in regards to making the NCAA tournament at the end of the season; that is determined by a system mimicked by the PairWise Rankings. Until the final weeks of the season, there is little reason to speculate or focus too much on the rankings, since there is not enough data accumulated until then. For instance, even with a 1-1 start to the season, the Lions currently are ranked No. 2 in the PairWise. Yes, I went there. We will report from time to time on what the USCHO.com poll and PairWise Rankings are, but they should be mostly disregarded until February.
That Tall Guy In The Big Pads
Peyton Jones gave up a goal 14 seconds into the first game of the season. In fairness, it was the first offensive possession of the year, and the Lions gave up an easy defensive-zone turnover to create the wide-open, point-blank shot that led to the goal. Following that play, Jones gave up just one goal in 110 minutes of game time until St. Lawrence added a score midway through the third period on Saturday.
Jones will play a critical role in the team’s success this season. He made several clutch saves this weekend, keeping his team in the game or in the lead, continuing his stellar play as a freshman last year. At 6’4” and 210 pounds, Jones has the body to play in the NHL much like former PSU goalie Eamon McAdam. Jones may only be a sophomore, but he turned twenty-one last February. There is no guarantee that he will be back in Hockey Valley next season, so much like it is with many talented players in college hockey, we should make sure to appreciate his play while he is with the team.