Know Your Enemy: Men’s Hockey vs. Arizona State
After a disappointing sweep at the hands of No. 4 Notre Dame, Penn State men’s hockey is back in action this weekend with its only West Coast trip of the season.
The Nittany Lions will travel to sunny Arizona to take on Arizona State for a weekend set at the Gila River Arena in Glendale, AZ. The puck drops at 10 p.m. Friday and 9:05 p.m. Saturday.
Before getting into Arizona State’s hockey team, let’s address the elephant in the room: the travel. Penn State will fly across three different time zones before arriving in Arizona for this weekend’s series, but sophomore forward Blake Gober doesn’t think the travel time will impact the team much.
“We’re kind of used to traveling that much,” he said. “We would take 14-hour bus rides when we played in junior; we get to take a plane down there so it shouldn’t be too much of an adjustment. I’m just happy to get back to some warmer weather here, to be honest.”
As for the team that Gober and Penn State will take on this weekend, Arizona State has struggled in the early stages of the 2017-18 season. The Sun Devils are off to a 2-6-2 start to the year, but both of those wins came on home ice. They defeated UMass-Amherst on opening night and Alabama-Huntsville two weeks ago.
Last weekend, Arizona State was off with a rare bye week, something that Guy Gadowsky’s team has yet to experience through six weeks of the season.
As far as scoring is concerned for the Sun Devils, Swedish defenseman Jakob Stridsberg has led the charge through ten games; his five goals and seven points each lead the team. Trailing behind Stridsberg are forwards Brett Guber and Dylan Hollman, who each have six points so far this year.
The team’s power play has struggled so far this year with the plethora of opportunities given to them by its opposition. So far, the team is 5-44 on the man advantage this year, which means the unit is operating on a success rate of just more than 11 percent.
Arizona State’s defense has struggled throughout this season, allowing 3.2 goals per game through ten games. Sophomore goaltender Joey Daccord has seen the lion’s share of work thrown his way, starting nine of ten games so far.
Daccord’s record is 2-5-2 on the year, recording a 2.76 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage during his nine starts.
Arizona State may not look that great on paper, but the team is clearly capable of winning on home ice, as evidenced by its opening night victory over UMass-Amherst.
This weekend is an early crucial point in Penn State’s season. Already at a 5-7 record, Guy Gadowsky’s Nittany Lions cannot afford to have their numbers worsened by one or two losses on the West Coast.
Penn State should see this weekend as a massive opportunity to string a couple of victories together and establish some momentum heading into the tougher games on the schedule, especially against an opponent as weak as Arizona State.
Penn State and Arizona State have only met twice as Division I opponents. One year ago this weekend, the Nittany Lions swept the Sun Devils over two games at Pegula Ice Arena.
These two wins came during Penn State’s 11-game winning streak that would vault the team to the top of the NCAA rankings last season.
Despite their struggles, I think the Nittany Lions should easily sweep Arizona State this weekend, just as they did last season at Pegula. The travel may be a tough adjustment for some of the players, but head athletic trainer Justin Rogers should have them ready to play, regardless of the time zone.