After last weekend’s split against American International, No. 15 Penn State men’s hockey is back in action this weekend for its first home conference series of the season.
Big Ten rival Michigan will travel to Happy Valley for two games on Friday and Saturday nights. The opener gets underway at 7 p.m., but puck drop on Saturday is at 8 p.m. because of Penn State’s football game at Ohio State, which kicks off at 3:30 p.m.
Michigan made waves in the college hockey world this offseason with the news of Red Berenson’s retirement. The Ann Arbor legend coached the Wolverines for 33 seasons after a 17-year career in the NHL, but decided to step down after leading the team to a 13-19-3 record last season.
Michigan is off to a solid start to the 2017-18 campaign under first-year head coach Mel Pearson. The Wolverines are 3-1 thus far, with their only loss coming to Clarkson during the opening weekend of the season.
One notable point, however, is Michigan is one of three teams that has yet to open conference play; it will do so this weekend at Pegula Ice Arena. The Wolverines opened conference play at Pegula last year, when they were routed over the course of the two-game series by a total score of 11-2.
As far as the roster is concerned, Michigan returns top center and Philadelphia Flyers prospect Cooper Marody, who did not play in the first half of last season after being ruled academically ineligible following a bout with mono. He went on to score 15 points in 18 games.
Marody didn’t play in the Wolverines’ series at Pegula last season, but returned for the two teams’ series at Yost Ice Arena and for the Big Ten tournament.
He was flanked by senior Dexter Dancs and captain Tony Calderone on the team’s top line last weekend against Vermont, but the trio has yet to produce in their first four games together. Dancs hasn’t recorded a point this season, while Marody and Calderone have combined for just two points so far.
The man that has carried the load for Michigan’s offense is freshman center Josh Norris, a first-round pick of the San Jose Sharks at last year’s NHL Draft. The Oxford, MI, native has recorded four points in his first four collegiate games, and may be the key cog of Michigan’s offense for the rest of this season.
Norris was a teammate of Penn State center Evan Barratt last season on the United States’ national development team, leading the team in goals with 27.
On the back end, three of the team’s top six defensemen from last weekend’s series with Vermont have been drafted by NHL organizations, and one, freshman Quinn Hughes, could be selected in the top ten of next summer’s draft.
Hughes is an excellent puck-moving defenseman who’s also a great skater. He could follow in the footsteps of fellow Michigan alum Zach Werenski and become the next great Wolverine defenseman to play in the NHL, but for now, he’s off to a strong start on the season.
He leads all Michigan defensemen with three points through his first four games, recording his first career NCAA goal against St. Lawrence.
In goal, Jack LaFontaine and Hayden Lavigne have split netminding duties through the first four games of the season, but LaFontaine’s numbers are far better than his partner’s.
LaFontaine, who was drafted No. 75 overall by Carolina in the 2016 NHL Draft, has won both of his starts so far this season, allowing just one goal in each of his victories. Expect him to start both games this weekend and try to stay hot against Penn State’s potent offense.
This team has NHL Draft-caliber talent scattered throughout its lineup; each of the team’s four forward lines and three defensive pairings against Vermont last Saturday featured at least one player who was selected by an NHL organization.
— Michigan Hockey (@umichhockey) October 21, 2017
Despite a rare off year last season, the Wolverines are a dangerous group stocked with talent. This team is just one year removed from an NCAA Tournament run, and it seems to have recovered from the losses of star players Kyle Connor (Winnipeg) and Zach Werenski (Columbus) to the NHL.
In the 2016-17 season, Penn State split its regular season series with Michigan after the Wolverines swept the two teams’ season-ending series at Yost Ice Arena at the end of February. However, the Nittany Lions won the rubber match in the Big Ten tournament, ending Michigan’s season with a 4-1 win at Joe Louis Arena.
Because of the Wolverines’ talent and Penn State’s early-season struggles, the Nittany Lions might not sweep this weekend. That being said, Penn State is definitely capable of pulling off a sweep if it can prove its consistency.