Know Your Enemy: No. 4 Penn State vs. Princeton

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After a tough series against Ohio State last week resulting in a tie and a loss, the Nittany Lions need some redemption. They’re heading to the city of brotherly love this weekend to face coach Guy Gadowsky’s former team Princeton in the College Hockey Faceoff. A neutral venue will give them a taste of what the NCAA tourney could be like.

Gadowsky’s Take

“All we have is one game this weekend. We need to get back to what we do and do it consistently, this is a great opportunity to do that,” he said.

Following Penn State’s loss to Ohio State, he noted how the team was trying too hard to force big plays. Penn State hockey has always been about shooting the puck at the net until something sticks, so you’ll likely see more of that this weekend.

This is a special game for Gadowsky — he coached Princeton before coming to Penn State. He led the Tigers to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments in 2008 and 2009 — first by winning the ECAC Tournament, then through an at-large bid.

“This whole staff had a tremendous experience at Princeton, we’ve greatly valued the relationships we’ve built with the student athletes and administration. We think very fondly off Princeton, but when the game starts it changes nothing for us. This is a very important hockey game for Penn State and it doesn’t matter who we are playing,” he said.

The General

The Tigers haven’t exactly been a powerhouse in college hockey this season. Their record of (7-11-2, 3-9-2 ECAC) shouldn’t make anyone lose sleep at night, however five of those wins have come against ranked opponents. Princeton picked up a win against Minnesota State, as well as weekend sweeps of Bemidji State and Quinnipiac. A huge downfall this season has been playing down to inferior opponents — Princeton is a mere 2-4-2 against unranked teams.

Penn State has the advantage in almost every statistical category except for penalty minutes per game, as the Tigers average .26 minutes less than the Nittany Lions. Princeton has been averaging 2.85 goals a game, while its opponents have scored 3.65 against them. This could pose a huge problem for the Tigers because Penn State ranks first in the nation in scoring with 4.43 gpg and 10th in overall defense.

Princeton has a real chance to win this game only if it jumps out to an early lead — it’s a miserable 2-7-2 when trailing after the first period. On the flip side, Penn State is 13-0-1 when leading after one period.

Zeroing In

Keep an eye out for Princeton’s talented tandem of sophomores in Max Véronneau and Ryan Kuffner. They are the Tigers’ top two leading scorers and have combined for 53 points on the season. Kuffner has notched a point in five out of his last six games and is currently riding a three-game point streak.

Goalie Colton Phinney has also been killing it, and Christian Frey’s brick wall was a huge problem for Penn State last weekend. Phinney’s made a few highlight-reel saves as of late and has been saving a high volume of shots despite his team’s losing streak so Penn State will have to turn it up a notch on offense.

Last Meeting

Penn State took on Princeton in Happy Valley early last season, and the Nittany Lions walked away with a 6-3 win. Tommy Olczyk’s hat trick was enough to hold off a comeback attempt from Princeton. Here are the highlights:

Prediction

Penn State should win this game easily by a score of around 5-1 if it gets back to how it was playing before Ohio State. The most uncertain part of this game is what cheesesteak joint Penn State will celebrate the win with. Pat’s? Geno’s? Jim’s? Tony Luke’s? Guy Gadowsky seems like an honest man and will crush a Jim’s hoagie instead of falling for the touristy gimmicks of Geno’s.

Photo By: Alex Bauer
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Matt Castle

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