For the first four seasons of Big Ten hockey, the conference tournament was held at a neutral site, alternating between Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. and Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
A combination of factors — most notably poor attendance numbers and Notre Dame’s addition to the conference — led the conference to adjust the format of the tournament. Beginning with this year’s tournament, each round will be held at campus sites, with the higher of the two competing seeds playing host to the other.
After sweeping Minnesota in its final regular season series, Penn State earned the right to host the opening round of the 2018 Big Ten Tournament against the Golden Gophers. The prospect of playoff hockey at the oft-raucous Pegula Ice Arena has Guy Gadowsky and his players especially excited to have home ice advantage in the best-of-three first round.
“I think some of the best, most exciting hockey will happen in the playoffs and it’s great to show our local community that hockey,” Gadowsky said on Monday.
Beyond what should be a raucous environment at Pegula Ice Arena, the benefit of hosting the opening round of the conference tournament extends to the playing surface itself.
“Just knowing the ins and outs of your own rink,” defenseman Trevor Hamilton called one of benefits of hosting. “In Detroit last year, the boards were way bouncier than any other rink in the nation. I think just knowing each and every single aspect of the rink helps your favor and gives you more confidence.”
The Nittany Lions will look to take advantage of the opening round benefits and ride that confidence through the Big Ten Tournament. Sitting just inside the NCAA Tournament bubble, a first-round win over the Gophers may secure the Lions an at-large bid into the national tournament.
Of course, the Lions are experienced in taking full advantage of the conference tournament. In a similar position last season, the Lions rode the hot goaltending of Peyton Jones to a Big Ten Tournament win and the subsequent automatic bid into the national tournament.
We’re sure to see a different Golden Gophers squad than the one that suffered its first-ever series sweep at the hands of the Nittany Lions last weekend. Mat Robson, perhaps the hottest goalie in the nation heading into that series, had a difficult weekend, being pulled once and allowing eight goals in two starts.
Rem Pitlick, who recorded 10 points in five games against the Lions during his freshman year, was held without a point last weekend and has just one assist in four games against the blue and white this season.
After dominating much of last weekend’s series, Gadowsky is also expecting to face a very different Gophers squad than the one that was outscored 10-3 and outshot 101-56.
“They’re Minnesota,” Gadowsky said knowingly. “I don’t care when you face them, they are going to be an excellent team. Period.”