Just a few short years ago both Ohio State and Penn State were working hard to break free from the bottom pack of the Big Ten, trying to strengthen their programs to the point that they could compete with the rest of the league on a regular basis. Now the rest of the Big Ten is trying to find a way to keep up with them.
The Lions have made their progress by becoming one of the most feared offensive teams in college hockey. Ohio State has done it with a type of defensive scheme that is rare in college hockey, smothering opponents up and down the ice with all five skaters.
Coming off a very important conference road sweep in Minnesota, coach Gadowsky was asked about his team. “There were a couple of issues that we identified this year that we had to improve on. One was closing out the third period. And two was sweeping the weekend after we got an opportunity on Friday night by winning the first one. The last two years we haven’t had a road sweep, so that was nice.”
It took the Lions several years of Big Ten play to put together two total wins in Mariucci Arena. The Gophers went an entire year with only one loss in their own building in 2013. To get a pair of wins in one weekend is exactly the step that the Lions need to take if they want to climb in the conference and national standings by the end of the year.
Penn State has shown an ability to put away teams that are not as strong as they are, which has been a problem in the past. Having two conference sweeps out of three series, with the only loss being to Michigan State, who sits at 3-1 in the B1G, has been a great start.
This weekend will be another major test for the team. A sweep would be very hard to take for either side. Nate Sucese spoke about the last time the teams met.
“They are going to remember what we did to them in the Big Ten playoffs last year. They were coming off a bye week and us going in their building and kind of shelling them with goals. So I don’t think that’s gone off to the wayside for them. They obviously want to steal some points from us. It’s up to us to start the fight on Friday night.”
Steal some points? That’s a good way for the Lions to look at it. Sucese continued.
“Some games are chippier and some games are faster than others. Each team has a different identity, as we try to play to ours. It’s up to the team that wants to stick to their identity the most and out-work their opponent to come out on top because every team is good in this conference.”
Scouting the Buckeyes
So far the only blemishes on Ohio State’s record are three losses to top-10 teams. Two weeks ago Notre Dame swept the Buckeyes in South Bend, winning by one goal each time, 3-2 in overtime and 2-1 in regulation. The Irish currently sit at number four in the PairWise, so that will not hurt OSU in the long-run. After being swept they had a bye week.
Ohio State has one of the best defensive teams in the country, led by Tommy Nappier, who holds the highest active winning percentage of all goalies in college hockey. It is a team effort, made possible not just by the goalie and defense, but also the way that the forwards play as well. At 1.80 goals per game they are 5th in the country defensively compared to Penn State, which sits at 18.
The Lions have done well this year to close the gap on teams such as Ohio State on the defensive end. So far this season the Buckeyes have struggled to score goals, netting just 2.70 per game, compared to 4.73 for Penn State, which is good for 3rd in the nation. While it seems to make sense that the goal for Guy Gadowsky’s squad would be to make the games a high-scoring affair, that is easier said than done.
Tanner Laczynski has 119 career points which is the third highest total for active players in NCAA hockey so it is not fair to say that the Buckeyes cannot score, or run with the Lions should it become a high scoring weekend.
It’s hard to say what will unfold this weekend, with two games sandwiched around a massive football contest between the universities. The atmosphere on Saturday night could be impacted by the game on the gridiron.