For the final months of the season there was a great deal of anticipation surrounding the Penn State hockey team. Would this be the season that the team qualifies for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history? There was a great deal of attention paid to the PairWise rankings and the Big Ten tournament seeding, but in retrospect, none of that mattered.
Penn State still has never received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, instead, Guy Gadowsky’s squad has garnered the automatic invitation that comes with winning the Big Ten Championship. There’s always next year to get that first-ever at-large bid, something for the team to check off its ‘first ever’ list that seems to be getting shorter and shorter with each passing day.
Just five years ago Penn State played its first-ever Division 1 hockey game. Four seasons ago it played its first Big Ten hockey game, and later in the season won its first-ever Big Ten tournament game versus Michigan in double-overtime.
This season the team won a program-record 24 games, a Big Ten Championship, and has a chance to play its way to a National Championship. This is the first appearance that the team has made in the 16-team NCAA Tournament field which culminates with the Frozen Four in Chicago two weeks from now. Each win along the way to a championship would be a first for the program.
Here is a listing for the games and how to watch. All of the games will be broadcast on ESPN networks and ESPN3, or TSN GO in Canada.
Tournament Viewing Schedule
|Fri.||Mar. 24||North Dakota vs. Boston University||ESPN2, TSN GO||3 p.m.|
|Fri.||Mar. 24||Providence vs. Harvard||ESPNU, TSN GO||4 p.m.|
|Fri.||Mar. 24||Ohio State vs. Minnesota Duluth||ESPNU, TSN GO||6:30 p.m.|
|Fri.||Mar. 24||Air Force vs. Western Michigan||ESPN3, TSN GO||7:30 p.m.|
|Sat.||Mar. 25||Cornell vs. UMass Lowell||ESPN3, TSN GO||12 p.m.|
|Sat.||Mar. 25||Michigan Tech vs. Denver||ESPNEWS, TSN GO||1 p.m.|
|Sat.||Mar. 25||Notre Dame vs. Minnesota||ESPNU, TSN GO||3:30 p.m.|
|Sat.||Mar. 25||Penn State vs. Union||ESPN3, TSN GO||4:30 p.m.|
|Sat.||Mar. 25||West Regional Final||ESPNU, TSN GO||6 p.m.|
|Sat.||Mar. 25||East Regional Final||ESPNU, TSN GO||8:30 p.m.|
|Sun.||Mar. 26||Northeast Regional Final||ESPNU, TSN GO||3:30 p.m.|
|Sun.||Mar. 26||Midwest Regional Final||ESPNU, TSN GO||6 p.m.|
|Thu.||Apr. 6||Frozen Four Semifinal||ESPN2, TSN GO||6 p.m.|
|Thu.||Apr. 6||Frozen Four Semifinal||ESPN2, TSN GO||9:30 p.m.|
|Sat.||Apr. 8||Frozen Four Championship||ESPN, TSN GO||8 p.m.|
Lions Are In Cincinnati
Penn State arrived in the Queen City on Thursday. After playing a brutal schedule in the Big Ten tournament, it is to the team’s advantage to play on Saturday rather than Friday for the opening game. By the time the team takes the ice it will have had a full week to recover. A nice meal at a Brazilian steakhouse should give the team plenty of fuel heading into the weekend.
Penn State Hockey Story
For those of you not familiar with the Penn State Hockey Story video series, it is a great way to capture the team as it makes its way through the season. The sixth edition, which was released this week, followed the team during its Big Ten Championship run. There are quite a few moments in the 30-minute video that illustrate the drama that unfolded in Joe Louis Arena but my personal favorite clips are taken in the locker room.
Coach Guy Gadowsky is a warm and compassionate man but he isn’t always one to wear his feelings on his sleeve. He is known for his straight-forward, emotionally steady, determined attitude. Prior to the game with Minnesota, Gadowsky went out of character a little bit, discussing the future following the game if the team were to win. Until that moment Gadowsky shunned the idea of thinking past the game at hand. He told his team about the stakes; a win would mean a birth in the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history, along with a trip to the Big Ten Championship. He also shared his feelings, and closed with a plea to his team to go and get the win.
While Hollywood may provide more bombastic, tear-invoking pregame speeches from a fictitious coach, there is nothing fake about Gadowsky. He is as understated as it comes and is not one to mention his feelings or needs, keeping the focus on his team. Prior to the Big Ten Championship game with Wisconsin the coach was back to his normal self. Just as he entered the room to address his team a player asked quietly if he was going to tell them his feelings again. Gadowsky simply said, “I’m excited,” and then handed backup goalie Chris Funkey the starting lineup for the game.
It is apropos that the understated coach said little then handed off to the player with perhaps the most to say. Funkey is the perfect character for a backup goalie. He is capable between the posts; if Funkey were the weakest link on the ice for your team, you could still win a National Championship. He’s that solid. I’ve taken to calling him the Stone Crab since he is short, has great lateral movement, and has a wicked glove that is the place where pucks go to be crushed. His glove is like a crab with one dominant-sized claw; his only natural form of defense against predatory scoring attempts. It’s a wonder if Funkey would be able to play goalie with just his athletic supporter and glove as equipment. He’d probably need some skates since his feet would get cold, but that’s a question for another day.
Funkey read off the starting lineup and coach Gadowsky left his team without a speech, simply making eye-contact with each player before walking out.
Penn State played 13 periods of hockey in three days to capture the Big Ten Championship. Following the first overtime in the Big Ten Championship, just a handful of minutes before the Lions would go back on the ice and win the game, a reprieve came to the tired team in the form of pizza. It’s amazing to see how relaxed the team was in the midst of a double-overtime title game. Being tense takes energy and the team had to conserve all that it had for the game and the pizza.
With a mouthful of pepperoni Gadowsky made the task at hand clear and then walked out of the room, “If there was ever a team built for scoring a goal like this it’s you guys. Play in their end, fire pucks, get to the net, win a game.”
On Saturday Penn State will begin to write the final chapter of its season, one that may have four games remaining or just one. Each game is an elimination scenario. With a win versus Union, the Lions will move to within one game of the Frozen Four.