Penn State sits atop the Big Ten standings and is in position for a 2 seed at the NCAA Tournament in Allentown a little more than a month from now. With a series win on the road against Ohio State, the Lions are back on track to accomplish all of the goals it had at the start of the season.
It doesn’t feel as though this campaign is going as well as the numbers say. Part of that is related to the fact that the team has not been playing up to its potential and that the potential for this team is greater than any since the Lions joined Division 1 hockey. Whether it is a surprise or not, this team has as many wins, at this point in the season, as any other in Penn State history.
Penn State is No. 8 in the PairWise, a strong position. While there is a great deal of hockey to be played and no position is safe if a team falters badly, the Lions simply need to maintain their status. It would be great to move up 4 spots in order to get a top seed in the Midwest Regional but that is something that would involve other teams around the country.
A top seed may still be in the cards for Guy Gadowsky’s squad but with their current position, it should only take a combination of 4 wins and ties out of the next 6 games to hang on to a seeding that is well inside the bubble. That would be through the remainder of the regular season and at least 2 games in the B1G Tournament.
If they win 3 of 6 games, they will make the tournament. It gets pretty dicey at 2-4, but should PSU beat Minnesota twice on the final weekend, that result could still get PSU in the Big Dance, though it might take a minor miracle.
Since there are 4 teams at each region, and the 2 and 3 seeds play on the first day, it doesn’t make a big difference if a team lands at 12 or 5 in the PairWise. There isn’t always an easy 4 seed to play were the Lions able to get to the 1 position, so that assumption is faulty. The only ‘bad seed’ would be if the Lions ended up barely making the field, playing the top seed in the opening game. That is unlikely to happen. Either Penn State will take a nosedive and miss the tournament altogether, or the team will play in the 2 and 3 seed match-up in the opening weekend in Allentown.
Big Ten Picture
Although the Lions moved into first place in the conference standings they are not in as strong of a position as it looks at first glance. Since Penn State has played 2 more games than 4 of the teams that trail in the rankings, it’s possible that as many as 4 teams could tie or pass them by winning the two extra games.
There is a lot that remains to unfold in conference play. For now, coach Gadowsky doesn’t pay too much attention to the standings. When asked if his team follows the daily changes, he said, “Honestly, we don’t. We look at the information we got the weekend before, and try to work during the week to get better. That’s really it. It’s a little early to be extrapolating right now. One of the great things about college hockey is that you are playing playoff hockey from the start. There’s a number of things you can look at in the NHL that changes once playoffs happen — shift length, intensity, etc. I think in college hockey you very much have that a lot more right at the start. So, in my mind, it’s almost like you’re going through 34 games of playoff hockey, so I do think it’s fair.”
There isn’t much that the team can do about how it sits in the standings other than to win as much as possible. It seems focused and with a veteran group and plenty of momentum, it has the talent to finish strong.
Today is Ground Auger Day, though it’s a misnomer since the auger is used on ice. It’s the day each year that we compare past Penn State hockey teams to the current incarnation. Each year on this date, we drill into the ice to see what it can tell us. If there’s ice in the hole then there’s still some hockey left to be played. If there’s water in the hole, then it’s time to get the nets off the pond.
This year the ice was so thick that we had to stop midway to sharpen the blade. Needless to say, the season is far from over.
Okay, I admit it. There’s no Ground Auger Day, though there probably should be. I just happened to wonder how this team was doing, in terms of their record, compared to the best teams of all-time in Hockey Valley. This is just the 8th season at the D1 level and 7th as part of the Big Ten. The team has met or surpassed its current win total in 6 of the 8 seasons.
That is quite an accomplishment, considering the only two years they fell short were the first two, when the team was badly out-matched against the talent it faced. Starting in 2015, things began to change. The Lions sit 18-9-3 here on Ground Auger Day, 2020, so let’s see how they stack up against previous teams.
- 2015-16 The team was 17-8-2 but went on to miss the NCAA Tournament with 21 wins due to a weak strength of schedule.
- 2016-17 At 18-6-2, the team was slightly ahead of where it is this year at this point, by percentage points, two fewer losses and one less tie. They went on to finish with a program-record 25 wins, gaining the first NCAA Tournament win as well. Had Ground Auger Day fallen a couple of days earlier, the 2019-20 team would be on the fastest pace ever, since the 2016 team swept Wisconsin on February 10 and 11.
- 2017-18 The team finished the season with 18 wins and made its first NCAA Tournament game.
- 2018-19 Last year on this date the team’s record was 18-10-2 and they went on to set the second-highest win total in program history, coming up one spot short in the PairWise from returning to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season. 22 wins left the team percentage points short.
- 2019-20 It is looking like the team will need a .500 or better finish to make the NCAA Tournament. If it finishes better than that and also has a win or two in the Big Dance, it would go down as having the most wins in program history and having traveled as far into the tournament as any other Penn State team.