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Penn State Battles Denver in NCAA Tournament

The Nittany Lions take on reigning National Champion Denver, with the winner facing either Ohio State or Princeton.

Photo by Heather Weikel

Guy Gadowsky often preaches about the lessons his team learns from each game. One lesson and one game have stuck out more than the rest.

Saturday night at 7 p.m., Penn State will be tested by that teacher once again.

The Nittany Lions begin their 2018 NCAA Tournament run against reigning National Champion Denver, who knocked the Lions out of the NCAA Tournament last season. After last season’s 6-3 loss in the Midwest Regional Finals, Gadowsky is looking forward to the rematch.

“The one thing the coaching staff is sort of excited about is we want to see if we’ve improved,” Gadowsky said. “We matched up against them last year and we like to think we’ve learned lessons from them and that experience and now we really get to find out if that’s true.”

Gadowsky hopes the Lions’ relative familiarity with the Pioneers will help his team this year.

“I think we can benefit from the experience, for sure. I don’t think their style is going to change a lot because there is so much continuity,” he said. “In the same sense of the experience of being there once, of playing that team once before, I think we can feel more comfortable with it.”

Scouting the Regional

Denver — There’s been very little turnover from last year’s Pioneers to this year’s. Four of the team’s top five scorers from 2016-17 have returned and are once again leading the charge for Jim Montgomery’s squad.

The Pioneers’ top line has been just as potent as last season. Center Henrik Borgström leads the team with 22 goals and 50 points, while Troy Terry — who netted a hat trick against the Lions last year — tops the team with 31 assists.

Jarid Lukosevicious, who had a hat trick in last year’s National Championship game and was named the Frozen Four Tournament MVP, has 19 goals this season as the third member of that top trio.

Despite the big names for the Pioneers, the Lions won’t be intimidated by what may be a significantly more talented team.

“You can’t come to the rink and think the other team is that much better than you,” forward Andrew Sturtz said. “We’ve got to be ready to give them our best game and they’ve got to be ready to give us their best game.”

While the Pioneers’ offense has been potent, their defensive prowess has been even more remarkable this season. Anchored by reigning Mike Richter Award winner Tanner Jaillet, the Pioneers are third in the nation in goals-against per game at 2.05. Jaillet’s personal numbers have hardly budged from last season, with an identical .929 save percentage and inconsequentially higher 1.85 goals-against average.

Ohio State — While the Nittany Lions have familiarity with the other two Midwest Regional participants, a conference foe awaits them on the other side of the Allentown bracket.

Despite losing the Big Ten Tournament championship game to Notre Dame, the Buckeyes come to Allentown as the No. 1 seed in the Regional. Much like the Pioneers, the Buckeyes success has stemmed largely from a strong defense, as the Buckeyes rank fifth in the nation in goals against.

The Buckeyes also boast the top-ranked penalty kill in the NCAA, shutting down nearly 90 percent of their opponents power plays.

Goalie Sean Romeo — perhaps the only reason Notre Dame’s Cale Morris wasn’t a unanimous selection as Big Ten Goaltender of the Year — put together a strong campaign in his first season with the Buckeyes. The Maine transfer posted a 2.09 GAA and .925 SV%.

Princeton — While the Nittany Lions and Tigers have faced off just twice in the past three seasons, a Penn State-Princeton matchup would be something special for Gadowsky.

Before joining the Lions in 2011, Gadowsky manned the helm at Hobey Baker Memorial Rink for seven seasons, leading the Tigers to two NCAA Tournament appearances in 2008 and 2009.

Now, the Tigers return to the dance for the first time since that at-large berth in 2009, riding the winds of an extraordinary run in the ECAC Tournament. After series victories over Brown and Union, the Tigers topped No. 1 seed Cornell in the semifinals and No. 3 Clarkson in overtime in the championship game.

The Buckeyes top-ranked penalty kill will be put to the test by the Tigers, who have the best power play conversion rate in the nation.

The Tigers sport a two-headed monster up front. Ryan Kuffner has 29 goals this season, one behind Northeastern’s Adam Guadette for the top mark in the nation, while Max Véronneau has 38 assists, two behind Northern Michigan’s Adam Rockwood for the national lead.