Know Your Enemy: Penn State Hockey vs. No. 3 Notre Dame
Penn State men’s hockey (2-1-0) is heading to Indiana this weekend for a series against No. 3 Notre Dame (3-1-0), and it will be so much fun. On top of being incredibly entertaining to watch, the powerhouse Fighting Irish are joining the Big Ten next season. This’ll shake a few things up and is huge for the B1G’s PairWise rankings (via increase of schedule strength). For now, though, we get to see how a young, speedy Penn State stacks up on the road against a nation-topping squad.
“We’re looking forward to this. They’re [Notre Dame] playing great right now and they definitely have great players, but I think their real strength is, boy, they don’t give you much. They’re such a well-coached team in the major areas that they don’t give out freebies — you really have to work for what you get,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “When you talk about a ‘complete’ game, I think we’re going to play that to generate offense.”
He emphasized (once again this season) that yes, Notre Dame has a skilled goalie, but no, Penn State is not doing anything different to prepare for that. It’s clear Gadowsky’s Lions are practicing hard and the same every week, regardless of who the competitor is.
“We’re well aware of what he’s done [Notre Dame goaltender Cal Petersen], but we’re not gonna change what we do. We just have to make sure we do it very consistently.”
You don’t just become No. 3 in the nation for no reason (usually). Notre Dame is worthy of the spot, with a win over No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth on the road last weekend. The win, a loss to Minnesota-Duluth the previous night, and two wins against brand new Arizona State give the Fighting Irish a 3-1-0 record this season. They’re coming off last season’s 19-11-7 record, and a perhaps more impressive 15-5-2 Hockey East showing. Standout games include wins over BC, BU, Merrimack (twice), and Penn State once. Notre Dame also posted a lot of ties against tough teams last season — Minnesota-Duluth (twice), Northeastern, Umass Lowell, and Denver (twice). It’s not going down without a fight.
Notre Dame tied with Northeastern for second (of 12) in this season’s Hockey East coaches poll — a pretty difficult feat. It beat out Providence by 10 votes, for reference.
Keep your eye on number 10. It’s Anders Bjork — and he’s on fire. The sophomore Bruins prospect ranked 59 in the NCAA for points last season, with 35 on a 1 ppg rate (12 goals and 23 assists). It’s early, but right now he leads the NCAA with 5 goals and 5 assists through four games. He’s somehow had his hand in almost every pivotal goal for his team this season.
Goaltender Cal Peterson is a huge part of what Gadowsky means when he says Notre Dame doesn’t give out freebies. His .927 save percentage (with 1,049 saves!) was good for No. 22 in the nation last year, and he shows no signs of slowing down in 2016-17. Some clutch saves kept the Irish Fighting (I’m so sorry) in their 3-1 win over Minnesota Duluth. Without the Roar Zone there to chirp him, his brick wall will be a huge challenge this weekend.
Penn State and Notre Dame are no strangers. They last met the Oct. 17-18, 2015 and split a series. Penn State lost first game in a fashion it’s familiar with — an early effort from Notre Dame followed by an almost-there comeback effort from Penn State. Notre Dame had a 3-1 lead in the first and extended it to 5-1 in the second, where Penn State attempted a two-goal comeback. It ended up falling to Notre Dame 7-4 after a chaotic third period and a standout performance from Alec Marsh.
The Nittany Lions fared better the second time around with more vigor on all fronts. Defense was the name of the game, though, and it was clear Penn State would have to pressure Notre Dame with all it had to come up with a win — so it did. It was a 5-3 win for the Lions marked by speed and bulletproof goaltending from Eamon McAdam. Walking out of Pegula that night felt like the beginning of an era. This game turned a lot of “maybe they can”s into “yes, they totally can”s for me. And there’s no reason the quicker-than-before Nittany Lions can’t do it again this weekend. It’ll obviously be tough, and one false move against Notre Dame can be deadly, but there’s a chance if Penn State plays a complete game.
Excuse the humblebrag, but so far I’m 3-0 for predictions on the season. Do I think Penn State pulls this one off and beats its highest-ranked opponent in program history? I don’t know. No one knows. That’s why sports are fun and predictions are bad. I say they split the series.