Gameday Observations: Madison Square Garden Doubleheader
The Big Ten hosted its inaugural Super Saturday doubleheader this weekend and other than Nittany Lion coaches and players, I don’t think anyone left Madison Square Garden dissatisfied. Penn State and Michigan took to the Knicks’ court at noon and the Wolverines pulled out a 79-72 win, then the hockey teams met on the Rangers’ ice at 7 p.m. where the maize-and-blue won again, 6-3. The results weren’t ideal, but the off-court and off-ice product was awesome. Here are some of our observations from the busy day.
Michigan had more basketball fans and Penn State had more for hockey. The S-Zone and pep band traveled to New York for the day and while their “We Are” chants sounded great in The World’s Most Famous Arena, the rest of the crowd was expectedly divided. Michigan basketball fans are everywhere because when you have such a storied program, you’re bound to have followers in every major city. Penn State’s basketball program on the other hand…well, trust the process. Saturday night was a different story, because while Michigan also has a storied hockey program, Penn State is very popular. If you’ve been to a game at Pegula Ice Arena you know what I mean — the Roar Zone is crazy and every game seems louder than the last. Guy Gadowsky’s team is easy to root for, and for the Madison Square Garden crowd, it was the favorite.
If it wasn’t on the biggest stage in the western hemisphere, that was quintessential Penn State Basketball. Watching Penn State struggle against a clearly better Michigan team brought way too many familiar feelings, and those grew stronger as the game went on. The Wolverines got out to an early lead and never really looked back, expanding the lead to comfortable double digits before a late comeback from the Nittany Lions that never really had a chance to tie the game. Brandon Taylor and Shep Garner combined for 46 of their team’s 72 points and it wasn’t enough. The bus was certainly on fire, but sitting back and taking in Madison Square Garden was the cathartic release fans needed.
Penn State hockey is good, but isn’t as close to national contention as we thought. Gadowsky and his players treat “Penn State hockey” like a concept rather than the team. Gritty plays are labeled as such, as are signature wins against ranked teams. I buy into that too, since the team’s identity is different than any other team I’ve seen it play. Forechecking hard and getting the puck on net has given most teams fits, but last week’s series was a rare example of a team being able to solve that strategy. Michigan outscored Penn State 13-7 over two games and it deserved to. Penn State should win most of its remaining games this season, but there’s an upper echelon of talent in college hockey that it doesn’t look like it can compete with just yet.
We found out who the big-game players are. Unfortunately each team had a sample size of one game at MSG to prove itself, but each team’s leaders rose to the occasion. Garner and Taylor had good games in the afternoon, then David Goodwin and Eamon McAdam looked good in the night game. Goodwin also scored Penn State’s lone goal in last year’s game against Cornell at Madison Square Garden, while Islanders draft pick McAdam made 43 saves to keep his team alive behind an oft-exposed defense.
Madison Square Garden was as cool as you’d expect behind the scenes. It’s tough to see the puck from the tenth floor, but it’s worth it to look around and be at the same level as banners honoring Rangers and Knicks championships, Patrick Ewing, Mark Messier, Billy Joel, and more. This was our view for the action:
And here’s the view from the escalators heading up the tenth floor.
My first time in Brooklyn was really cool. Thanks to Drew Balis for his hospitality and thanks to The Bagel Store for existing.
It doesn’t look like Penn State is scheduled to return to the Garden until 2019 at the earliest. The Big Ten released the 2017, 2018, and 2019 Super Saturday schedules earlier in the week, and the Penn State isn’t featured. The basketball slots are already filled, but the 2019 hockey matchup has yet to be announced. This past Saturday’s atmosphere was a solid application for Happy Valley to return to New York, but time will tell when if we’ll see that soon.
That being said, how cool is it that our young programs got to go? Seven Big Ten basketball programs went to last year’s NCAA Tournament, and every Big Ten hockey team has been around much longer than Penn State. It’s a testament to Pat Chambers, Guy Gadowsky, and Penn State fans that they were selected to participate in the conference’s first MSG doubleheader. The rivalry with Michigan is a hit no matter the sport, and the ranked hockey programs delivered a fun game (for 40 minutes at least, depending on who you ask). The Big Ten knew a blue and white crowd would travel well, and the conference bigwigs weren’t disappointed.
Penn State basketball is back in action on Wednesday at No. 3 Iowa, and the hockey team is at Minnesota this Friday and Saturday. Both teams surely enjoyed their time in New York, and if they can make it there, they can make it anywhere.
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