The Pegula Ice Arena will be full of fans and cheers as the 2018-19 season kicks off on Thursday night at 7 p.m. With only one tune-up, a 3-2 win versus Brock during an exhibition game last weekend, the Lions will face a tough test right out of the gate.
The Clarkson Golden Knights return a strong team and this could prove to be the most challenging non-conference series of the season.
Game two of the series will be on Friday night at 7 p.m. with Happy Valley full of Homecoming festivities. The atmosphere inside The Peg will be loud and will surely have an impact on the players. It will be a great experience for fans as well.
The Lions opened last season with a single game versus Clarkson, a 2-1 loss in Potsdam, New York. Clarkson finished 23-11-6 and made the NCAA tournament a year ago, proving to be one of the toughest non-conference games of the season for Penn State.
The Golden Knights lost 2-1 to Princeton in overtime of the ECAC conference tournament championship and lost to Providence in the first round of the East Regional after being a top-ten team for much of last season.
The second and third highest scorers from last season return for Clarkson as does Jake Kielly, a finalist for the Mike Richter award for the top goaltender in college hockey. In all eighteen players on the team are veterans, enough to make them a formidable opponent.
This is an important non-conference series for each team.
Ratings and Rankings
With the season set to begin there should not be too much made of the rankings at this point. The USCHO.com poll is derived from votes by sports writers that seldom watch the teams that they are ranking. The PairWise Rankings, which mimic the process used by the selection committee to pick the field of sixteen teams which will compete in the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year, are much more important. However, until late February or early March, there is not enough data for the PairWise Rankings to be accurate enough to be concerned about either.
So for now, we have the USCHO.com poll, which has the Lions ranked 16 and Clarkson ranked 17. The teams may very well move up and down the standings throughout the season, but at this point, it appears that the two games with Clarkson will be one of the best opportunities for the Lions to strengthen their non-conference schedule.
Two games with Princeton, now ranked No. 14, will also provide some non-con strength as well. While it is always important to have the best non-conference schedule as possible, this season the strength of the Big Ten will give the Lions a chance to win its way into the NCAA Tournament.
In past seasons, Penn State’s weaker out-of-conference schedule, combined with the Big Ten’s less than stellar field of teams, made it so that Guy Gadowsky’s squad would need more than twenty wins to have a chance to make the NCAA tournament field.
Last year an 18-14 record was enough for the team to make its second appearance at the NCAA tournament in program history, its second trip in the past two seasons. To keep the streak alive, the team will need to produce a similar record this year. So while the Lions may hover in the middle of conference standings, that will be enough to have a chance to make the tournament. Once in the field, any team could go on a four-game run and win the National Championship.
While there is a lot of hockey to be played, coach Gadowsky has never had a more capable team. The parts have to come together, there will be growing pains, but if the group can stay healthy toward the end of the season, the sky is the limit.