Coach Guy Gadowsky has his squad playing as well as any team in the country. At stake on Saturday night is a Big Ten Championship and also a chance to send Notre Dame home for the season.
Ohio State will grab an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, securing its third trip in three years. With a win, Penn State would tie for the longest NCAA tournament appearance streak in the B1G, matching the Buckeyes. For Notre Dame, a win versus the Lions would stamp their ticket for a fourth consecutive season.
Looking around the country, Denver has made the NCAA tournament for 12 straight seasons. Providence has the next-longest streak at 6, Minnesota-Duluth is third with 5, and Cornell has made 4 straight trips.
If the Lions win this weekend, their streak of 3 straight tournament appearances will be tied for the 5th-longest in the country. That would be quite an achievement for a team that is playing just its seventh season of Division 1 hockey.
Defenseman Cole Hults was asked about the pressure that comes with playing win or go home games at the end of the season. “Last week against Wisconsin after losing that first game we knew it was do or die, we needed to win those next two games. So this week we came in a little more relaxed and a lot of guys that didn’t know what the Big Ten playoffs are like got a taste of it. So we came here and it felt like we were very confident and we had to do what we had to do.”
Leading scorer Alex Limoges comes into the game with 50 points on the season, tied for the national lead. He spoke about the feeling of the team having their backs against the wall. “We’re gamers. Playing desperate hockey is fun. You want to play fast and hard. Make good plays, turning the defense all night long. Controlling the puck, winning battles.”
This will be the third weekend in a row that the Lions know that a loss will end their season. The pressure will be considerable but the teams’ nerves should be able to handle it, considering their play in recent weeks.
- Kris Myllari has 88 blocks on the year, placing him 4th in the country. The amazing thing for the defenseman is that just one other player in the top-20 in the country in blocked shots has fewer penalty minutes than Myllari’s 12. Teammate Paul DeNaples is tied for 12th in the country with 77 blocked shots and has the fewest penalty minutes among top blockers, with just 6 all year long.
- DeNaples, a freshman, is second in plus/minus with an amazing +31, trailing by just one point for the national lead.
- Penn State leads the nation in shots on goal per game but only Nate Sucese is in the top-25 with 140, good for a tie for 9th. The Lions get their shots from all over, not just one player.
- Nikita Pavlychev leads Penn State with 57 penalty minutes on 23 penalties, which puts him tied for 25th in the country. A half-dozen or more of his penalties came on clean hits on smaller players so there is no real issue for the big Russian in terms of committing lazy penalties.
- Penn State leads the nation in goals per game with 4.61, a full half-goal over second-place St. Cloud State.
- Penn State averages two full assists per game more than the next Big Ten team, Minnesota, with a nation-leading 7.82 per game.
- Goalie Peyton Jones faces a lot of adversity due to the style of play that Penn State employs. His numbers do not compare well to goalies that play on more conservative-style attacks, but he is currently 12th in the country in the most important category, wins, with 18.
- Many teams in the country had multiple goalies record a shutout this year. A total of 76 different goalies had a shutout across the NCAA. Penn State has not had one all year but Peyton Jones nearly pulled one out on Sunday.