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Penn State Faces Notre Dame in B1G Semifinals

The Nittany Lions are heading to South Bend with a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game on the line.

Photo by Heather Weikel

Although Penn State has basically assured a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the Nittany Lions still have some meaningful hockey left to be played before they (very likely) host the Midwest Regional March 24 and 25 in Allentown.

While the Nittany Lions are likely thrilled about a second-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, coach Guy Gadowsky doesn’t want his team to look too far ahead.

“We’ve got Saturday night at Notre Dame. Period,” Gadowsky told reporters on Tuesday. “I know it’s sort of the same answer, but all we have is Saturday night and that’s all we’re looking at. That’s it.”

Saturday night brings with it a trip to the Big Ten Tournament championship game. In order to advance to their second consecutive championship game, the Lions will have to earn their first victory over the Irish this season.

Gadowsky’s squad was swept in South Bend in early November, then split a weekend series in State College in early February. The Lions three losses to the Irish have come by a combined five goals, however, proving they can compete with the top team in the conference.

For the Lions to finally secure their first win over the Irish this season, they will need another strong performance from their third line. Winger Alex Limoges has four goals and four assists in his past five games, while center Evan Barratt has four goals in his last four games. The third member of that trio, right wing Liam Folkes, has a pair of goals and four helpers in the past five games.

The Lions may also have to find continued success without their top shutdown center. Nikita Pavlychev missed his first two games of the season during his team’s opening-round sweep of Minnesota. Sophomore Brett Murray — a natural winger who hadn’t played in over a month — filled in admirably for Pavylchev as the Lions’ fourth line center.

Scouting Notre Dame

After clinching the Big Ten regular season title roughly a month ago, the Fighting Irish have posted a subpar record since. The Irish have played just five games since, but have struggled to a 1-4-0 record in those five games.

While the Irish were likely conserving energy for the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament, they enter the conference tournament with little momentum to ride, coming off a regular season finale loss to bottom-ranked Michigan State.

Still, it will be hard to count out a team that made a run to the Frozen Four last season and has a dominant netminder in Cale Morris. Even with a 3.40 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in his last five starts, Morris is still sixth in the nation with a 1.92 GAA and second with a .945 SV%.

Gadowsky has been wildly impressed with the sophomore goalie’s performance this season.

“It sounds so stupid, but he’s just so good. I don’t know how, but he stops the puck,” he said. “That’s a really bad answer, but that’s all I have.”

The recent slide by the Irish doesn’t alter Gadowsky’s perception of the Dean Jackson’s squad.

“At this point, you know you’re going to play a great team, especially in this conference, no matter what you do,” Gadowsky said. “No matter how you slice it, the second round of this tournament, you’re going to be playing a great team.”


Chris Taylor I’ve heard people speculate that Notre Dame may be rusty coming off the bye week that it earned by winning the B1G regular season title. There’s been talk that the Fighting Irish limped to the finish of the season, losing four of the final five games once it clinched first place in the conference. While the downward trend could be explained by the team letting off the gas once it accomplished a significant goal, there is more to it than that. Since January 19, the Irish are 4-6-1. Heading into the final eleven games the team was an impressive 19-3-1. Even with forgiving the last few losses, it has been nearly two months since Notre Dame has played at the dominant level that got it to the top of the B1G.

With that said, this is just one game, played in South Bend. Penn State has played its best hockey of the season over the past couple of weeks. There is no reason to believe that Guy Gadowsky’s team won’t show up ready to play at the top level.

What we don’t know is which team will get the puck luck, the fortunate tip or bounce that could change a close game. This match will likely come down to one or two plays though the teams will have to play at least sixty minutes of solid hockey to earn the victory. One thing to look forward to is that neither team has anything to lose by pulling out all the stops late in the game to try to win. There is no tomorrow in conference play for the loser, and the winner moves on to the championship. Notre Dame wants to put a stamp of legitimacy on its regular-season by winning the conference tournament. Penn State seeks to keep the championship trophy in Hockey Valley for another year.

It should be an intense game, on national television. It will be the most widely-watched college hockey game of the weekend. My score predictions aren’t worth the paper that they are printed on, and this is an online publication so that’s saying something. But I’ll take a stab at it.

Penn State 4, Notre Dame 2 (Empty netter seals the deal in a close one)

Colin Piatt — Notre Dame has practically been on cruise control since clinching the Big Ten regular season title on February 9. The Fighting Irish lost three straight games after that 2-1 victory over Ohio State, including being swept by Michigan in a home-and-home series. Penn State, meanwhile, has played its best hockey of the season the past two weekends. With the Irish earning a bye in the opening round of the tournament, the Nittany Lions have a chance to take advantage of what could be a rusty Irish squad.

Penn State has made a habit of playing to the level of their competition. Against some lesser teams early in the season, the Nittany Lions had trouble closing out winnable games, forcing their last-minute push for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Thankfully for the Lions, those desperate times have produced some of the team’s best performances, such as the past two weekends against Minnesota, when the Lions dominated the Golden Gophers.

Still, this is Notre Dame. It was no coincidence that the Irish won their first 13 conference games and wrapped up the Big Ten regular season title with time to spare. Dean Jackson’s team is built to win a National Title. A Big Ten Tournament title may be one stop on that path for the Fighting Irish.

Notre Dame 3, Penn State 1