No. 19 Penn State Hockey To Start Its B1G Schedule With Momentum
It was considered a hot take to say Penn State would improve upon last year’s record-setting season, but through 13 games the Nittany Lions are 8-2-3. Three of its remaining 23 games are against non-conference foes, and the remaining 20 feature four games against each of Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, and Wisconsin.
For those fanbases, the most fun statistics and likely the most over-used are the length of each team’s history, and in a few cases, how many National Championships it has. Penn State gets smoked in both of those categories, and while winning it all is highly unlikely this year, winning the Big Ten is possible.
Every team in the conference has played between 10 and 13 games, none of which were against each other. The conference’s leading scorer through the early season? He’s from Penn State. Nos. 2 and 3? Also Nittany Lions. Curtis Loik, Chase Berger, and Kenny Brooks are one of the best lines in the nation, each contributing 14 points to a team that was supposed to regress on offense. Junior David Goodwin is tied for fourth in the conference, while freshman Alec Marsh is tied for ninth. Andrew Sturtz and David Glen are right behind him, as Penn State is best represented on the stat sheet. Only Michigan State has nearly as many players scoring as often.
Of course, offense isn’t everything. At the other end of the ice, allowing 2.38 goals per game (the lowest mark in the conference) is…Penn State. Another area that was supposed to get worse, not better, lost arguably its best players to graduation with no clear leader remaining. As soon as the 2015-16 started, however, Luke Juha was one of the returning defenders who seized the reins and helped out the goalies. Neither have proven themselves consistent in Hockey Valley, and Matt Skoff’s having the season he’s becoming used to. He dropped seven points from last year’s .907 save percentage. Eamon McAdam, on the other hand, is showing Penn State fans why the New York Islanders drafted him the third round a few offseasons ago. He’s had the heaviest workload of any Nittany Lion goaltender, and has a conference-leading .929 save percentage to show for it.
The point is, since no Big Ten teams have played each other yet, the only measure to compare teams and players with is statistics. Other teams have more players drafted and likely more talent, but Penn State currently has the best offense, defense, individual scorers, and goalie. The time to prove that is now, as the quest for a high seed in the Big Ten Tournament starts this weekend.
Penn State’s first target is Michigan State. Michigan State won two games, tied one, and lost one against the Nittany Lions last season. This season, its record of 4-7-2 looks ugly, but doesn’t mean that the Spartans have a bad team by any means. Penn State blew out a couple of unranked teams already this season (and had scheduled those teams a few years in advance of this season — who thought Penn State would be anywhere near good yet?), but Michigan State’s schedule is what one should expect from a team that always has NCAA Tournament aspirations. It lost twice to No. 9 Denver, lost once to No. 2 Boston College, lost and tied with No. 17 Michigan Tech, and last weekend lost twice to No. 4 North Dakota. The Spartans are 2-1-1 against unranked opponents and 0-1-6 against currently ranked opponents. Penn State is on the fringe of both categories at No. 19, so it’s an interesting storyline this weekend to see which trend will prevail. By the way, Penn State’s only experience with a ranked team this season is when it split with current No. 20 Notre Dame in the season’s second and third games.
Penn State opens Big Ten play Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 3:30 p.m. when the Michigan State Spartans pay a visit to Pegula Ice Arena.