No. 6 Penn State hockey (18-6-2) is coming off a two-game sweep of Wisconsin, in Madison, ending a five-game winless streak. The wins not only stopped the slide for the team but also move it closer to its first at-large bid for the NCAA tournament in program history. With just 8 games remaining in the regular season, a strong finish could lock up an NCAA tournament spot prior to the Big Ten tournament.
No. 4 Minnesota is coming to town during THON weekend with serious Big Ten regular season implications on the line. The stakes could not get much higher. The Lions trail Minnesota by 5 points in Big Ten standings with 8 games to play. Anything less than a series win for PSU would make it very hard to catch the Gophers with just 6 games on the schedule. The Badgers are currently two points ahead of the Lions and in second place. The top two teams in the regular season get a very important bye in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.
When Ohio State came to Pegula Ice Arena in early January, the Buckeyes were ranked No. 11 in the PairWise Rankings at the time and PSU was No. 1. With the Gophers currently ranked No. 4 and Penn State at No. 6 heading into the series, this will be the highest combined ranking between competing teams in the history of the Pegula Ice Arena.
Guy Gadowsky’s Press Conference Recap
On whether he is emphasizing the goal of making the post-season for the first time in program history over the goal of winning the Big Ten Championship at this point.
I think it’s unfair to say that we are prioritizing one over the other. The only difference is that to guarantee yourself a spot in the (NCAA) tournament, those games that you play in October are as important as the games you play in March. Whereas the Big Ten tournament, you can peak at the right time. Your mindset is on the tournament, but it is definitely not fair to say that we prioritize one over the other.
This is what coach Gadowsky had to say about the re-emergence of high-scoring freshman forward Denis Smirnov. Coming off his longest scoring drought as a Nittany Lion, five games, Smirnov scored three goals and had two assists in the two-game sweep of Wisconsin.
I think with Denis he’s going through a few bumps and bruises. He’s getting healthy and I think it showed this weekend. He was able to move a lot better. Getting a player like that back to more what we saw at the start of the year if obviously huge for the team.
Last week coach Gadowsky was asked about the leadership on the team, and how it has gotten through the recent adversity. Gadowsky answered by saying that the team, 0-4-1 in the last five games at the time, was not ‘through it’ yet so he couldn’t answer that question. This week coach was asked the same question and this is what he said about senior captain David Goodwin’s leadership.
He responded with his best game of the season on Friday night. He was tremendous. I almost wish he hadn’t scored because he played so well outside of that. But as is often the case with the hockey gods, when you do a lot of the little things for the good of the team you get rewarded and that’s what we saw with David. And if that is any indication, the leadership response was tremendous and to be honest, what we have come to expect with David Goodwin.
How helpful is it that you have played Minnesota recently and the sweep that they handed you is still fresh in your mind?
For this sake I think it does help. We came off two losses, one we played very poorly I thought, and one that we played very well and lost. It is fresh in our minds and there is a feeling that we can atone for that. We believe we can play well against Minnesota because we have, but it’s Minnesota. There’s a lot of teams that are going to play very good hockey games and lose. Especially at Mariucci. And anytime there’s referees and goal-tending, and bouncing pucks, you know, you can play very well and lose. We got the confidence by showing that we can play a good game, but now we want to finish it.
- Kevin Kerr is out this week but coach Gadowsky would not go further than that until he knows for sure the extent of the injury. Kerr went to the boards hard, feet first, in the first game of the series versus Wisconsin last weekend. He had to be helped off the ice and to his credit, refused anything other than a teammate’s aid to do so. It appeared to be a very serious injury, one that could cost Kerr the remainder of the season. But Gadowsky said that he was not going to say what the injury is until he knows for sure. Let’s hope there’s a way Kerr can return to the ice this season.
- Dylan Richard is expected to play this weekend for Penn State after missing both games of the Badger series. Richard has put together a very productive year, scoring 6 goals and 11 assists to go along with his all-around game that doesn’t show up in the box score. He’s fifth on the team with a +18 plus/minus and his return will solidify the special teams for the Lions this weekend.
- Denis Smirnov was awarded the Big Ten’s First Star of the Week for his performance versus Wisconsin. With five points, taking him to 34 on the season, Smirnov is the nation’s leader in points by a freshman. Nate Sucese was also acknowledged as the Big Ten’s Second Star of the Week. Sucese scored two goals and three assists and was plus-7 over the weekend, the best plus/minus in the country for that stretch.
- Both games of the weekend series with Minnesota will be televised nationally on the Big Ten Network. The game on Friday will begin at 6:30 and the game on Saturday is at 8 p.m.