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Penn State Versus Minnesota: An Important Series at the Pegula Ice Arena

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Penn State has a chance to show what it can do in front of a national audience this weekend.

Photo by Heather Weikel

For the remainder of the season, the majority of Penn State hockey games will be on national television. Both games of the series this weekend will be televised at 6 p.m. on the Big Ten Network, on Friday and Saturday night.

No. 18 Penn State (14-10-2) split the first series of the second half of the season with No. 24 Minnesota (11-12-4) in the first weekend of January. The Lions skated well on the large sheet of ice inside Mariucci Arena, playing without Aarne Talvitie and Evan Barratt who were competing in the World Junior Championships.

Barratt has returned, and returned to form, since the last time the teams met. Talvitie was injured in the World Junior’s championship game, which the team he captained from Finland won, and is out for the season. The Lions have plenty of talent remaining on the roster but the loss of the two-way forward in Talvitie is significant.

At 18 in the PairWise Rankings, with 8 games remaining in the regular season, Penn State will likely have to win more than it loses the rest of the way to get into position for an NCAA tournament birth. It won’t be known until all of the games are played in late March, but typically teams ranked 13 or better in the final PairWise Rankings receive an at-large invitation.

The Big Ten conference is as strong as any in the country, with all 7 teams ranked in the PairWise at 31 or better. The inter-conference play toward the end of the season will benefit the league compared to most other leagues, so as teams in the B1G win, they will move up the ranks. In other leagues, winning teams may still fall in the rankings due to low-rated opponents.

It’s interesting to see that Arizona State, the lone independent in NCAA hockey, is still hanging tough at No. 8 in the PairWise Rankings. The Sun Devils only have 4 games left believe it or not, and if they make the tournament, they will have not played a game since March 2, nearly a month. ASU has 2 games with a surprising No. 34 American International, and a pair with Minnesota left on the schedule. We will be watching as ASU sits at home while other teams play to see how their rankings are affected.

Since Penn State and the Gophers played, Minnesota has swept Notre Dame, been swept by Michigan State, and split with Wisconsin and Michigan. For the Gophers, at 24, they have to start winning now and hope to have a run in the Big Ten tourney to get anywhere near an at-large NCAA tournament birth. There is still a path there for the team, so expect them to come out fighting as though their season depends on winning at least one game this weekend. It may.

For the Lions, they simply can’t afford to be swept at home. An elusive second win for a series sweep would propel the team back into the mid-teens in the PairWise Rankings. PSU has swept No. 12 Clarkson, No. 48 Niagara, and No. 56 Robert Morris but has not been able to pull off a sweep in conference play. Guy Gadowsky’s squad may need one by the end of the season.

It will be a great weekend at the Pegula Ice Arena so if you aren’t able to attend the games, join along on the Big Ten Network or set your recording device. It’s the stretch run and the hockey should be very sharp and intense.