Penn State will get started in the second half of the season with a pair of games at home this weekend against Niagara. The Lions have been off for the past few weeks and it’s time to crank things back up before the conference schedule begins in full.
After the series this weekend, Penn State has one more non-conference game left, a single game in Pittsburgh against Robert Morris on January 11. The following week is the start of six consecutive conference series without a bye week. Many of the games will be televised in the second half of the season, so it will be easier for casual fans to follow along.
To this point Guy Gadowsky’s squad has played as expected, sitting in first place in the Big Ten standings and at No. 6 in the PairWise Rankings.
Niagara is having a respectable season for their program, with a 4-9-3 record and a 46th placement in the PairWise Rankings. The Purple Eagles will likely finish as the lowest-rated opponent of the season for Penn State, but there have been times in recent years that they have been close to dead last in the country, so the games this weekend won’t hurt the Lions in the ratings too badly.
By the end of the year, the strength of the Big Ten conference will provide enough support for the Lions to make the tournament with a solid finish to the season. The hockey team is in a similar position as the basketball team heading into the second semester. If it finishes with a .500 or better record, a tournament birth is all but guaranteed.
Here is a look at the current Big Ten Standings.
With 12 conference games remaining a lot can happen. Since the Big Ten conference has been in competition, 41 or more points have been enough to clinch first place. Six more wins would put the Lions at 42 points, a position that has never failed to garner first place, and with it, a bye in the first round of the conference tournament, then home ice the rest of the way.
If Penn State can hang on to their current position nationally it will be enough to get a spot in the regional in Allentown. A slight improvement from sixth place would give the Lions the first one-seed in program history along with a favorable match-up in the first round. There are times when an automatic qualifier from outside the top-30 grabs a spot in the field and that would be a better match-up than the eventual national champion, as the Lions faced last time at the tournament.