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Penn State Welcomes Michigan To Open Big Ten Home Slate

Michigan Week is off and running as the No. 2 Wolverines visit State College.

Heather Weikel | Black Shoe Diaries

Guy Gadowsky was proud of Penn State’s mental toughness when the Nittany Lions faced North Dakota in Nashville.

Against Ohio State last weekend, not so much.

After opening the scoring both nights, the Buckeyes rallied in the final 20 or so minutes to win both contests.

The Nittany Lions have never been the most adept with preserving leads in what starts out as a low-scoring game.

In theory, their preferred playing style suits such a situation.

Gadowsky doesn’t like when the team tries to get cute, which can lead to better chances for the opposition. He preaches physicality and grit, which should slow the opposition down. With an offensive style that prioritizes getting bodies in front of the net and grinding out goals, they should continue to get scoring chances no matter the game situation.

And yet, it just sometimes doesn’t all come together.

Why this is something of a trend for the Nittany Lions isn’t easily explainable.

“It happens over and over in all different sports. I don’t know why [it happens]. It’s, I guess, being human,” Gadowsky told reporters on Monday.

Regardless, the No. 19 Nittany Lions (6-3-0, 0-2-0 Big Ten) will try to learn from both their successes two weeks ago and their mistakes last week as they welcome No. 2 Michigan (8-2-0, 3-1-0 B1G) to open their Big Ten home slate.

On paper, it’s frankly a mismatch. The Wolverines feature seven first round picks and 13 NHL draft picks total. The Nittany Lions, just three, and none higher than third round pick Clayton Phillips.

Gadowsky doesn’t linger on Penn State’s relative inability to draw in high-profile recruits and the ceiling that may come with it.

“I’m a little bit of a romantic that way,” he said. “There’s great sports stories all over the place that would suggest there isn’t [a ceiling]. The conscious in you and the reality sort of says there is, but then you’re always reminded in different sports.”

Scouting the Wolverines

Is it a stretch to say this Michigan roster is, on paper at least, the best ever?

We’ll start at the top, and by that I mean the top of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, during which the Wolverines made history.

Four of the top five picks came from Ann Arbor. Owen Power went first, Matty Beniers second, then Luke Hughes and Kent Johnson went fourth and fifth, respectively.

Mackie Samoskevich went 24th, giving the Wolverines a record five (5) first round picks in a single draft.

Add to that Johnny Beecher going 30th in 2019 and Brendan Brisson going 29th in 2020, and the Wolverines feature a staggering seven first round picks on this year’s roster.

The Wolverines have taken advantage of the US National Team Development Program being based a stone’s throw away from Ann Arbor, but if ever there was a championship-or-bust roster, this is it. And it’s worked out nicely so far.

The Wolverines enter the series with an 8-2-0 record, having spent a week as the No. 1 team in the nation and having yet to fall below No. 3 in the USCHO poll.

They lead the Big Ten and rank fourth nationally with 4.10 goals per game. Those seven first round picks have combined for 63 of their 113 points this season, a clip of 55.7 percent of total points and 65.8 percent of total goals.

In goal, sophomore Erik Portillo has inherited the starting role from former Big Ten Goaltender of the Year Strauss Mann. Portillo has started all 10 games thus far, with a 2.20 goals-against average and .919 save percentage, both of which rank fifth in the conference.