Penn State vs. Ohio State: B1G Tournament Preview
Although Penn State ended its regular season on a sour note thanks to a sweep at the hands of Minnesota, it was still by just about every measure the best hockey season Happy Valley has ever seen. This past weekend, the Big Ten gave the Nittany Lions their first-ever postseason conference awards: Guy Gadowsky is the Coach of the Year, Casey Bailey is All-Big Ten First Team, and Scott Conway is on the All-Big Ten Freshman Team. Though the individual acknowledgements are nice, the team has only one goal right now: a Big Ten Championship. That journey begins Thursday at 4:30 p.m. against the Ohio State Buckeyes.
The game will be aired on the Big Ten Network and BTN2Go. If you’re in State College and want to watch with a crowd, the Roar Zone will be having a watch party at 4:30 p.m. at the HUB. Even though the game is all the way in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, you can still witness some Pegula Magic while you watch at home.
That being said, let’s take a look at this matchup. With the help of Kaley Rentz from Ohio State’s student newspaper, The Lantern, here’s our comprehensive preview of this afternoon’s showdown:
Why will your team win?
Onward State: The expectations for Penn State this season were almost too low to miss, following the 8-26-2 debacle last year. Now, in head coach Guy Gadowsky’s third season at the helm, the Nittany Lions have seen unprecedented success and since day one have looked like a team of destiny. The leadership in the program has been its strong point, not only with captain Patrick Koudys and alternates David Glen and Nate Jensen, but with a senior class that has grown with the program and wants to deliver it a Big Ten Championship. Having three capable goaltenders doesn’t sound ideal on paper, but it has worked all season for the Nittany Lions. Matt Skoff, Eamon McAdam, and P.J. Musico have all performed admirably this year, and when McAdam takes the ice Thursday afternoon, he should rise to the occasion. Gadowsky has had his team primed for every game this year, and in the biggest game in program history, there’s no reason why this one should be any different.
The Lantern: After coming off a second place finish in the Big Ten Tournament last season, expectations were high for the Ohio State men’s hockey team. After battling a string of injuries and adapting to many new faces, Ohio State struggled throughout 2014-2015 season. Returning a strong core of eight seniors, the Buckeyes had high hopes. But their inability to maintain consistency caused Ohio State to not live up to expectations.
A now healthy and focused Buckeye squad has rallied to win four of its last six games. Ohio State has beaten and been beaten by every team in the league. Through the end of its season, it has harped on the fact that the team needs to focus on itself.
The Buckeyes have something to prove. This team has struggled throughout their season to attain consistency. The playoff hockey mentality has now become a part of the Buckeyes’ identity. Riding the wave of momentum from a strong regular season finish, and the experience of their eight seniors, the Buckeyes have developed a new confidence.
As Ohio State prepares for its fifth matchup against the Lions, defense is one of the main focuses facing the No. 9 offense in the country. After a slew of injured goaltenders last season, the Buckeyes settled into the 2014-2015 with two sophomore goaltenders, Matt Tomkins and Christian Frey, splitting time. However as of late this season, Christian Frey has become the consistent man in the net for the Buckeyes. A strong defense anchored by Frey has given the Buckeyes a chance to be successful.
Ohio State has won three of four meetings this year, why will this game be the same or different?
Onward State: It’s winner-take-all, and Penn State has shown over and over again that when the game is on the line, it will do what it takes to come out on top. Although the two most recent meetings between the teams were an Ohio State sweep three weeks ago, the performances were understandable. Penn State lost the first handily, but the second could have gone either way were it not for an injury to Taylor Holstrom.
For a good example of what a motivated Penn State team can do, look no further than the teams’ first meeting this season. With 17 minutes left in regulation, Ohio State led 4-0 before David Goodwin and Casey Bailey combined for four straight goals to tie the game up in one of the most thrilling periods of hockey by any team in the country this year. Were it not for an iffy non-call in overtime that resulted in an Ohio State game-winner, Penn State likely would have rode its momentum to a win. It’d be a shock if this upcoming game turned out anything like that one, but it still encapsulates the lethal instinct of Penn State’s offense.
The second game of that series is the one that may best represent this upcoming matchup. Riding the high of the previous night’s comeback, Penn State came out of the gates flying and rolled all four lines in a 4-1 victory. That was also the only game in the season series that McAdam played in, and he made 35 saves en route to a .972 save percentage. Of course, anything can happen in a one-game series, but there should be no doubt that Gadowsky will have his team firing on all cylinders and McAdam will stand on his head.
The Lantern: The interesting aspect of the Big Ten Tournament is that every team goes onto the ice with a clean slate. Going into the final week of the Big Ten regular season, the title was up for grabs. Three teams had the ability to finish first and it wasn’t until the final buzzer went off in the final game that the winner was decided. Going into Joe Louis Arena, the tournament is ultimately wide open.
This is not just another game, this is a one loss and done tournament. The difference in this game is that the loser’s season ends. Even though Ohio State holds the lead in wins against the Lions, the momentum could go either way.
The last time the Buckeyes and Lions met, Ohio State earned its first sweep of the season and took away Penn State’s chance at competing for the No. 1 spot in the Big Ten. The real difference in this game is going to be the “want factor.” Each game between the Buckeyes and Lions has been close, the games come down to the bounce of a puck. The real driving force in this game will be the motivation not only in each player but within each team. The key to the game will be the coaches and captains’ ability to prepare and motivate their team. Coach Rohlik has constantly stressed that games are won through the preparation done on Monday through Friday. Ohio State is focused on playing Penn State, and preparing to come out victorious Thursday.
Working off momentum from its sweep of the Wisconsin Badgers, Ohio State is motivated across the ice, from defense to offense, and that all stems from the solid eight senior core, for the Buckeyes’ confidence and momentum are the key contributors to their success. Coach Rohlik emphasized to the team early that the playoff hockey mentality was how it would win and now, it’s naturally become part of its identity. This is a new team, with newfound confidence, new offensive powerhouses, and a solid defense. Every player is excited and motivated to be successful in the Big Ten Tournament, and that motivation can go a long way.
Who are your team’s key players to watch Thursday?
Onward State: Penn State’s top line has been nothing short of spectacular game in and game out. For most of the season, the top trio was Goodwin, Holstrom, and Bailey, but since Holstrom has been out with his injury, Goodwin has shifted to center and Tommy Olczyk has moved up to round out the top line. In the second game that those three played together, Goodwin tallied four points in a 4-3 win that capped off a sweep of the No. 16 Michigan Wolverines. Olczyk adds grit and defense to the top line, and on the right wing is Big Ten First Team selection Casey Bailey. He became Penn State’s first 20-goal scorer this season, and is its all-time leading scorer with 80 career points.
While offense may not be what ends up winning this game, what’s worth noting is that Penn State has four players with more Big Ten points than Ohio State’s leading scorer, Anthony Greco (who has 14). Those players are Bailey (23), Goodwin (23), Eric Scheid (16), and Holstrom (15, but doubtful to play in this game), while freshman Scott Conway’s 14 points matches Greco.
Any given player can be held off of the score sheet any night, so the most important player will be Eamon McAdam. The New York Islanders’ draft pick will be counted on to stop Greco and Co., and the game will be decided by either McAdam or Christian Frey outdueling the other in net. It’s an adage as old as hockey itself: Goaltending wins championships.
The Lantern: Junior Anthony Greco proved early that he was going to be a top scorer for Ohio State after receiving his first hat trick in the home opener against the then fourth-ranked team. Greco has continued to excel for the Buckeyes, leading the team with 15 goals. Another player who has stepped up on and off the ice is senior captain Tanner Fritz. Fritz has become a playmaker and scorer for the Buckeyes proving he wants to end his senior season on a high note.
However, the key to Fritz and Greco being successful doesn’t just come from their offensive momentum, but also their consistency. The two forwards have been the most durable players for the Buckeyes, being the only two to see action in every game this season.
All that being said, Ohio State has never relied on any individual player to score this season. Every forward has the ability and potential to get the tally. The Buckeyes play with four scoring lines and they don’t depend on one guy, or one line. Players like Matthew Weis, Nick Schilkey, Matt Johnson, Tanner Fritz, and Anthony Greco have all been the go-to guys this season. Thats where the depth in the Buckeyes’ roster shines through. It was clouded with injuries throughout the season, but now the team is healthy and peaking at the right time. This is the time of year when everyone on the ice steps up, so don’t be surprised when guys like Chad Niddery, Darik Angeli, Tyler Lundey and David Gust are driving to net. Thats what playoff hockey is, everybody working their hardest to win that one game, that one play, that one opportunity.
Although offense wins games, defense wins championships and the OSU defense anchored by goaltender Christian Frey has become a solid, strong unit. Frey has stepped up as the starting goalie for Ohio State and has led the team to a strong regular season finish. Ohio State defensive players like Justin Dasilva, Sam Jardine, and Josh Healey have absorbed the playoff hockey mentality, blocking numerous shots and leaving it all on the ice every game. In the end for the Buckeyes the defensive support has been critical to the team’s success as well as the team’s confidence. When a team can trust and rely so heavily on its defensive unit, while providing the needed offensive support, that balance creates victory.
What’s your prediction?
Onward State: Penn State wins 3-2. McAdam might look shaky at times, but he has enough raw talent to keep his team in a playoff game. With the top line’s season-long dominance and the second line’s emergence in the second half of the season, there’s no reason that the Lions won’t be able to find the back of the net a few times. If last year’s team could make the semifinals, there’s no reason that this team can’t. Onward to Minnesota, we hope.
The Lantern: To be honest there is no way to predict the outcome of this game. This is playoff hockey, there are no predictions and no expectations. With two evenly matched teams it’s anyone’s game. The true winner will be determined by the preparation and motivation going into Thursday.