Know Your Enemy: Penn State Hockey vs. Mercyhurst
Penn State men’s hockey (1-1-0) opened up its season with a series draw against St. Lawrence and the NCAA play of the week. The Nittany Lions don’t have to travel too far for their first away game this Friday — they’re facing off against Mercyhurst (0-0-0) in Erie, PA. We don’t have concrete expectations for Penn State after just two games (or ever), but we have an idea of how it will stack up against the Lakers. Yes, Mercyhurst is the Lakers, and the Nittany Lions have matched up with the in-state team as many times as they’ve dunked on Shaquille O’Neal — never.
With a nonexistent history between the teams, could this be the start of a little keystone rivalry — or maybe an ally? Penn State and Mercyhurst don’t have too much in common besides geography, losing to Michigan, and winning against American International. Apparently the Lakers are hosting a “Snowtown Throwdown” for the game. I’m not sure what that means in the slightest, but I’m seeing tweets urging Mercyhurst fans to “wear green and show up early,” so things might get interesting.
“After Friday night, we certainly have a lot of our own issues to deal with, but they’re a team that has lost very little [players] and their top two scorers last year were freshmen. They’re basically the same team with whoever they added. They’re well-seasoned on both ends,” coach Guy Gadowsky said.
Mercyhurst hasn’t played an official game yet this season but fell to Guelph (out of Ontario) 6-2 in an international exhibition. The biggest takeaway there is somehow it only managed one goal off of 14 (!) powerplay opportunities. Exhibition games can get really weird though, so let’s take a look at Mercyhurst’s 2015-16 showing.
Last season, the Lakers went 17-15-4 overall and 15-9-4 in in the AHA. They beat out then-No. 20 Colgate once and won two (of six) games to RIT, a team blinking on the national radar this year, but nothing else jumps out as too discouraging. St. Lawrence and its performance in the ECAC was more alarming ahead of last week’s series. Mercyhurst ranked fourth in Atlantic Hockey’s preseason media poll, behind RIT, Air Force, and Holy Cross, and it got one vote for first place.
Like Gadowsky said, the Lakers have an advantage in age. They only graduated three seniors, and luckily for them, two freshmen led the team in scoring.
Lakers icemen Derek Barach and Lester Lancaster were named to the AHA preseason all-star team — and for good reason. Barach, a sophomore forward, lead his team as a freshman. He racked up 32 points off of 10 goals and 22 assists for a .89 points-per-game showing in 2015-16. Lancaster, a sophomore defenseman, is a huge weapon for the Lakers. He was the AHA’s rookie of the year last season, leading his conference’s defensemen in goals (nine) and points (29). With Mercyhurst’s leading scorers returning, Penn State could run into some trouble on defense.
Between the pipes last season, Brandon Wildung posted a .913 save percentage through 20 games played. He played the first 40 minutes of last week’s exhibition, but freshman Collin DeAugustine relieved him after he let up five goals. DeAugustine spent last season as the Youngstown Phantom’s netminder, where he had a 3.2 goals against average and a .892 save percentage at the end of the season. Before you get too excited that neither of these folks seem to have Kyle Hayton (last game’s brick wall for the Saints)’s goaltending prowess, say it with me: Goalies are much more complex than statistics. Goalies are much more complex than statistics. Goalies are much more complex than statistics.
Never happened! Firsts are fun.
Last week, we made a pact. I generally hate predictions, so I told you I’ll only make them if no one makes fun of me. I’m extra cocky this week since my prediction for the Penn State-St. Lawrence series was correct (and thus, no one made fun of me). This one’s a little easier since it’s just a one-gamer — I say Penn State wins. I’d love to hear your predictions so tweet me those lukewarm takes, folks. I thrive off of them.