Irish On Ice: Penn State vs. Notre Dame Series Preview
As a team gets better, it’s only fair that its competition does too. Last season, Penn State’s second series of the year (excluding a weekend tournament in Alaska) was against noted non-powerhouse Holy Cross. The Nittany Lions won 3-1 on Friday night, then 7-1 the following afternoon. This season, Penn State’s second opponent is…the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Irish played 13 years at the Division I level in the middle of the 20th century before returning to club status, and then returned to varsity level and have remained there for the last 33 years. Notre Dame has made the NCAA Tournament seven times, and the Frozen Four twice. The Nittany Lions, to put it simply, have not done that. But despite the differing history between the two programs, this weekend’s series should be a good one.
Off The Ice, It’s Like Looking In A Mirror
Neither team is ranked right now, but they’re both expected to flirt with and ultimately crack the rankings a few times this season. Currently, the teams have both received a high number of votes and points in the poll, with Notre Dame sitting at an unofficial No. 24 and Penn State at No. 27. Behind the benches are similar coaching staffs too, led by Jeff Jackson and Guy Gadowsky, who have both spent time with their national teams and have coached in the CCHA. Gadowsky’s time with the Canadian National Team came in 1993-94 as a player, and Jackson’s time came in the late 1990s coaching the U-18 American National Team. Gadowsky coached in the CCHA when he was with Alaska-Fairbanks, and Jackson spent time in the CCHA when he was with Lake Superior State, and again until 2013 with Notre Dame. The main similarity, though, comes with their coaching styles. Penn State and Notre Dame scored 119 and 126 goals respectively last season (both very high totals nationally), but allowed 113 and 116. The figures are very close, demonstrating the teams’ high-flying offenses that still barely outscore the other team.
The Top Two Scorers Have Left, So Who Will Step Up?
Each team had two point-per-game players last season. For Penn State, it was Casey Bailey (who left school early to play for the Maple Leafs) and Taylor Holstrom, who has graduated. For Notre Dame, Vince Hinostroza left school and is now with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs (affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks), and defenseman Robbie Russo is with the Grand Rapids Griffins, the minor-league affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings. Their absences open the door for the team’s next three leading scorers to all step up. The point production from last year dropped off significantly from Hinostroza and Russo to the next three players (Mario Lucia, Thomas DiPauli, and Jordan Gross), who in turn see point production drop off after them. Lucia, a left winger, and DiPauli, a center, are seniors now, and should lead the team up front. Jordan Gross was fifth on the team in points last year as a freshman defenseman, which speaks volumes to the hands the underclassman possesses.
The Nittany Lions technically return just one of their top-five scorers. Bailey and Holstrom are gone, as is Scott Conway due to off-ice issues. Eric Scheid is still with the team, but sustained an offseason injury and won’t be available to play until November. The only returning high scorer for Gadowsky’s team is David Goodwin, the third player from last year’s top line and the highest scoring returning player in the Big Ten. Playing on this year’s top line with David Glen, Goodwin tallied three points in his first game, to go along with Glen’s two goals. On the third line, Curtis Loik also tallied three points and was named the Big Ten First Star of the Week. Both sides have no shortage of potential scoring, but it’s hard to tell who’s a real threat and who will fizzle out so early in the season.
Notre Dame Brings Back Slightly More Experience On The Blue Line
Notre Dame graduated two defensemen last year and brought in two freshmen. That’s a little smaller of a turnover compared to what Penn State saw, with three defensemen graduating and three coming in. The Nittany Lions lost two players with letters on their chests in Patrick Koudys and Nate Jensen, and an every-other-day player in Peter Sweetland. Freshmen Kevin Kerr, Vince Pedrie, and Derian Hamilton all project to be solid contributors, and should stack up nicely against a Fighting Irish defense that only has two upperclassmen. Justin Wade and Andy Ryan will be reliable players, in addition to the experienced and aforementioned Jordan Gross. But either way, on both ends of the ice, young, fast defensive corps will face off with each other and may be more concerned with scoring themselves than preventing the other team.
In net, Penn State has Matt Skoff and Eamon McAdam, both of whom have been around seemingly forever and both of whom can compete. McAdam was announced as Friday’s starter and Skoff will play on Saturday. Notre Dame’s Cal Petersen and Nick Stasack both played in the team’s 7-5 exhibition win over Guelph, and though it’s not certain who will start this weekend, allowing five goals in an exhibition game isn’t a great look. This is Notre Dame’s season opener, so whoever starts will certainly be who Jeff Jackson trusts most, not the backup.
It’s College Hockey, And Pegula Is Open For Business
Predicting who will win an individual game or series is a fool’s errand when hockey is such a competitive sport and so many games are played. All that matters is the home opener is almost here, the Roar Zone will be wild and whited-out, and two evenly matched teams get to begin writing the stories of their 2015-16 campaigns. Come out Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m. (plenty of time to still catch the 8 p.m. football game) and, in the first available opportunity since the spring, be a part of the best environment in college hockey.