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No. 16 Penn State Men’s Hockey Set to Open 2023-24 Season

The Nittany Lions drop the puck on their 12th season as a varsity program tonight

NCAA HOCKEY: MAR 26 Div I Championship Allentown Regional - Team v Team Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Penn State men’s hockey team will take on LIU tonight in the 2023-24 season opener. Puck drop is set for 7pm, and the game will be broadcast on ESPN+.

Head coach Guy Gadowsky’s squad will look to build on last season’s NCAA tournament berth that fell just short of a trip to the Frozen Four. Penn State was ranked No. 16 in the preseason USCHO poll. Big Ten foes Minnesota (No. 3), Michigan (No. 5), Michigan State (No. 9), and Notre Dame (No. 20) were also ranked.

The Nittany Lions lost their top five goal scorers and 45% of their overall point production from last season. The leading returning goal scorer is junior Ryan Kirwan, who tallied eight goals in 2022-23. Other key returning forwards include alternate captain Christian Sarlo (2022-23: 7 G, 10 A), Danny Dzhaniev (7 G, 8 A), Tyler Paquette (7 G, 8 A), and alternate captain Xander Lamppa (6 G, 13 A). Gadowsky’s run-and-gun system should keep the offense near the top of the NCAA. Watch for the Sarlo-Lamppa-Paquette line to lead the way for the forwards after an impressive 2022-23 season.

Defenseman and captain Christian Berger (5G, 15A) leads a talented, but relatively inexperienced blue line. Jimmy Dowd Jr is set to step in on the top defensive pairing after a strong junior season (4 G, 15 A).

Goaltender Liam Souliere returns for his senior season after a very solid 2022-23 campaign (2.43 GAA, .917 save %, 3 shutouts). His progression was key to Penn State’s turnaround last year, and if he continues to improve, this looks to be another strong season for the Nittany Lions.

None of Penn State’s non-conference opponents qualified for last year’s NCAA tournament, which sets up nicely for a team looking to replace half of its production. However, a loss or two in non-conference play could hurt Penn State’s NCAA tournament resume. The Nittany Lions will need to pick up quality wins in Big Ten play to make the tournament for the second straight year. That is easier said than done with Michigan, Minnesota, Michigan State, and Ohio State all projecting as contenders for the conference title, but Penn State is certainly in the mix.

Season Prediction: 21-13, NCAA tournament berth

Prediction

The LIU Sharks, like Penn State, are one of the new kids on the block in college hockey, as this will be only their fourth season as an NCAA team. Competing as an independent, LIU has posted a record of 26-53-4 in its first three seasons. On paper, this is a game the Nittany Lions should win with their better talent and depth, but given this is the first game of the season, I would expect to see a close score.

Penn State 4, LIU 2