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Penn State Gathers Awards While Heading To South Bend for the Big Ten Championship

A second trip in two years to Allentown for the NCAA Tournament is just one win away.

Photo by Heather Weikel

Evan Barratt has played a major role in the success of the Penn State hockey team this season. The sophomore has scored 16 goals to go along with 27 assists, putting him 10th in the country with 43 points. Barratt was honored with an All-Big Ten First-Team selection earlier this week. He is just the second forward in program history to gain the honor, joining Casey Bailey in 2015.

Here is what Barratt had to say about it. “It shows how well the two guys I’ve been playing with have been playing. It could really, honestly, go to any of us. We feel like we’re still playing our best hockey throughout the year. We’re really excited how last weekend went and going into this weekend, we still think we’ve got a lot to give.”

Barratt isn’t just being humble. His line mates have been playing as well as any players in the country. Alex Limoges is tied with the national lead in scoring with 50 points, and Liam Folkes is back to his usual self, scoring post-season points like a champ.

Here are the records that Liam Folkes holds.

Dating back to his freshman season, scoring a flurry of goals in the Big Ten Tournament, along with the game-winner in the title game, Folkes has been clutch late in the season.

While Penn State has enjoyed its share of success these last few seasons, the Nittany Lions haven’t made it easy on themselves. For the third consecutive season, the Nittany Lions find themselves in a must-win scenario late in the season to make it back to the NCAA Tournament.

In each of the past two seasons, the Lions have finished high enough in the PairWise Rankings to garner an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Two seasons ago, in Detroit, Penn State clinched an at-large bid the night before securing the automatic bid by defeating Wisconsin in the championship game.

Last season the Lions grabbed their first at-large bid. This season Penn State may likely finish in the top-16 of the PairWise standings, even with a loss versus Notre Dame, but it will not be enough to gain an at-large bid. Only the top 14 or so will make the field this season. Penn State must win to continue its campaign.

Brandon Biro and Cole Hults were selected as honorable mentions in the Big Ten awards, with Biro scoring 39 points and Hults playing solid defense all season.

Here is what Biro had to say about the team’s mental state heading into the challenge on the road in South Bend. “It feels really good. The guys are really loose, especially the last game, and even against Wisconsin, it never really felt like we were going to lose it at any point.”

Biro was asked about the similarities between this year’s team and the past two seasons. “If you look at the roster, we might have a little more talent than before. The similarities are that we still are going to work hard and we’re not going to beat teams on skill alone. We’re going to have to, especially with Notre Dame, play to our systems and not try to force the issue.”

While the run that the Lions have had in recent years is impressive, it is easy to forget that the program is still in the building stages. It has only been a few seasons since top recruits have considered playing in Hockey Valley and the roster is not complete, from top to bottom, with highly-regarded players.

That bodes well for the future, as the pipeline of incoming players is chock-full with a torrent of talent. For the first time in program history, three players were invited to the National Team Development Program Evaluation Camp. The camp will take place from March 21-25 and will help select the 2019-20 U.S. National Under-17 team.

Carter Schade, a defenseman from Mars (Pennsylvania), Dylan Gratton, a forward from Pottstown, Pa., and defenseman Andrew Tsakounis from Arlington, Va., will all make the trip, representing Penn State. The trio are, as you can imagine, set to join the Lions a few years in the future.

Scouting Notre Dame

At this point in the season the teams know one another quite well, having faced off 4 times. Penn State lost 5-4 at home in the first meeting then followed it up with a 9-1 win. A few weeks ago, in South Bend, the Lions lost 5-4 in overtime and then won 3-2 the next night. If you are looking for anecdotal evidence that may indicate the outcome this weekend, then both teams have what they need. Notre Dame has not lost the first game of a series this year, and Penn State has not lost the last game.

So is this one-game match the first or last game of the weekend? I guess that’s why anecdotal evidence is mostly worthless. We’ll have to play the game to find out which team will continue on to the NCAA Tournament.

Coach Gadowsky spoke about the experience of playing on the road during the Big Ten Tournament rather than playing the games all in one weekend at a neutral arena. “It’s a different feel. The first series, because it was a three-game deal, was quite similar. You have to play a little harder. You have to win more games. Other than that, you’re playing Big Ten opponents, so the quality is the quality. It’s really high quality hockey. I will say, I think it’s going to be a really cool atmosphere. Rather than playing in a big building without a specific team’s fans there, I think the atmosphere is going to be awesome. I think we’re all looking forward to that.”

Brandon Biro described Notre Dame. “They’re a team that’s going to win 1-0, 2-0 like they have in the playoffs. That’s obviously why they’ve had a lot of success in the postseason the past two years since joining the Big Ten. If you’re trying to chase the game and play from behind, you’re going to make mistakes. They really only need one or two goals if you don’t get playing early.”

The fighting Irish have won 1-0 and 2-0 versus Michigan State and 2-1 in overtime versus Minnesota to get to the Big Ten Championship. With the results earlier in the year between the Lions and Notre Dame, it is clear that anything could happen. The Lions have lost a pair of 5-4 games, won a massive blowout and also a tight, low-scoring game.

I guess everyone will have to tune in to the Big Ten Network at 8 p.m. on Saturday night to see how the game plays out.