While every coach will argue that all conference matchups are vital, the weight of those matchups may not be felt until late in the season. Such is the case this weekend as Penn State heads to Ann Arbor for a matchup with Michigan.
The No. 12 Nittany Lions sit five points ahead of the No. 20 Wolverines for third place in the Big Ten standings and just two back of second-place Ohio State. With the No. 6 Buckeyes on their bye week, the Nittany Lions have a chance to build some separation before their own bye week after they take on Notre Dame in early February.
The Lions will try to regain some momentum after having their 11-game unbeaten streak snapped against Ohio State. The team is still trying to keep its focus on the upcoming series, rather than on those passed.
“We’ve been really hot in our last 11 games and we dropped that last one against a really good team,” forward Andrew Sturtz said. “We don’t really look back to the Ohio State weekend. We look more so to get back to what we were doing Friday night so that way we come out strong in Yost.”
Coming out strong at Yost Ice Arena has been a challenge for the Lions. Guy Gadowsky’s squad is just 2-6-0 all time on the Wolverines’ home turf, but have not won at Yost since Nov. 21, 2014, when seniors James Robinson and Erik Autio were freshmen. The matchups haven’t been close either, as the Wolverines have outscored the Lions 28-5 in the last five games at Yost.
“In my opinion, it’s the hardest rink to play at in this conference,” Sturtz said. “I have not had a good time with their crowd in the two years I’ve played there and I know some other guys feel the same way.
“Hopefully we can go in there and steal a couple games this year that would be nice for once.”
The Wolverines have been top heavy in scoring this season, as Cooper Marody and Tony Calderone have combined for 24 goals and 58 points this season. The next closest Wolverine, Dexter Dancs, has 17 points in 22 games this year.
A pair of underclassmen have shown promise this season, however. Freshman Quinn Hughes leads Wolverine defensemen with 12 assists, while Josh Norris has posted 12 points in 19 games. Both players displayed their talents on the international scene with Team USA during the World Junior Championships this season.
As has been the case for the past few seasons, the Wolverines have approached their goaltending by committee. The crease has been shared this season by a pair of sophomores: Hayden Lavigne and Jack LaFontaine. Lavigne has started 13 games and has posted the better numbers of the two netminders.
Both goalies put forth strong performances during the teams’ first matchup back in October. During a 5-4 overtime loss, LaFontaine made 49 saves on 54 shots. The following night, Lavigne stopped 42 of 44 shots in a 4-2 win.