For the past few seasons, Penn State has played a unique brand of hockey, regularly peppering the opposing goaltender with shots, averaging the most shots per game in each of the past three seasons, including this year. That’s translated into one of the most potent offenses in the NCAA during that stretch.
Earlier this week, ESPN’s Ben Arledge offered a comparison to the Lions’ offensive style — the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s.
Those Oilers squads routinely topped the National Hockey League in goals scored, having set the team record in 1983-84 with 446. Head Hockey coach Guy Gadowsky isn’t sure the Lions are worthy of the praise, but he doesn’t seem to mind the comparison.
“I don’t know if it is fair or not [to be compared to Edmonton], but I love it,” he told reporters on Friday. “I consider that a great compliment.”
The high-octane offense is a playing style Gadowsky has employed through his five seasons behind the bench in Happy Valley, and it’s a style he’s become comfortable with.
“We have never been accused of being too defensive,” he said. “We do like to score goals. We have four lines that like to score goals and six defensemen that like to score goals. We like to play that way, so I think that is a fair assessment. They scored a lot of goals too.”
Union Prepares for Penn State
Penn State’s fast-paced offense can cause difficulties in preparation for a matchup with the Nittany Lions. Goaltenders used to playing behind talented defenses may suddenly be called upon to face upwards of 40 shots.
Dutchemen goaltender Alex Sakellaropoulos explained that he’s faced a unique week of practice in preparation for the high-flying offense of the Lions.
“All week we’ve been doing flow drills, a lot of shot type of things, so I’ve been seeing a lot of high-quality shots throughout practice and that’s one thing,” he said Friday. “All the coaches have talked with me throughout the week, and I’ll be seeing a lot of shots.”
A heavy workload won’t be new to Sakellaropoulos, who likened his potential burden to a contest against Quinnipiac earlier this season. During that Dec. 3 matchup, Sakellaropoulos stopped 50 of 52 shots in a 5-2 win. The senior netminder said he plans to watch film from that game and try to carry that mentality over to Saturday afternoon’s game.
Lions Prepared to Pounce?
As the only team making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament, Penn State can’t look back on the kind of history other participants like Harvard, Boston University and Minnesota have. That may come as an advantage to the Nittany Lions, however.
The newcomers to the big dance, the Lions may have little to lose in their first appearance in the National Tournament, which could make them a dangerous opponent for those with more history weighing on their shoulders.
The Dutchmen have a simple strategy for combating a potentially dangerous squad, a strategy similar to what Gadowsky and his Lions preach almost weekly during press conferences.
“If we play Union hockey, we can beat most teams in the country,” defenseman Jeff Taylor said.
Captain Mike Vecchione isn’t taking the Lions lightly, speaking from experience.
“We played them our freshman year at Penn State and we squeaked away with two out there four years ago,” he said. “It’s not going to be an easy task.”
The Dutchmen went on to win the National Championship that season, foreshadowing how quickly the Lions would develop after starting virtually from scratch the prior season.