Know Your Enemy: No. 14 Penn State Hockey vs. No. 18 Wisconsin
No. 14 Penn State men’s hockey has an opportunity to bounce back from last weekend’s sweep at the hands of Michigan with another Big Ten series against No. 18 Wisconsin (12-12-3, 6-8-2 Big Ten).
As ever, plenty of storylines surround this weekend’s series between Guy Gadowsky’s Nittany Lions and Tony Granato’s Badgers. Penn State took five of six points from Wisconsin during the last series between the two teams. Will history repeat itself this weekend, or will the Badgers exact their revenge?
The biggest storyline entering this weekend’s series may also be the biggest story in all of hockey this week. Jim Johannson, an executive for USA Hockey, the general manager of the United States’ 2018 Olympic hockey roster, and a Wisconsin alumnus, passed away in his sleep early Sunday morning.
Johannson played college hockey with Wisconsin head coach Tony Granato from 1983 to 1986 and selected Wisconsin’s bench boss to coach the United States’ 2018 Olympic hockey team. The Badgers will wear decals on their helmets for the remainder of the season to honor Johannson.
We lost a true friend in Jim Johannson today.
He was so compassionate and as loyal a friend as you could have. He was the ultimate teammate.
I am deeply saddened and shocked and sorry that he is no longer with us.
He was a special human being. pic.twitter.com/vGAR4ZTFu2
— Coach Tony Granato (@TonyGranato) January 21, 2018
“It’s shocking,” Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky said of Johannson’s sudden passing. “He was hugely important for USA Hockey. I liked the way he did things, and he has great respect from Hockey Canada. I spoke to him recently when Cole [Hults] was [at the United States’ World Junior development camp]. It’s really shocking. I didn’t interact with him a ton, but every interaction I had with him was extremely positive and you could see right away why he was so respected in both countries.”
Another big storyline entering this weekend is Wisconsin’s most recent appearance. The Badgers became the first team to beat Notre Dame in Big Ten play Sunday afternoon with a resounding 5-0 win over the top-ranked Fighting Irish. This victory will surely instill a confidence in the Badgers entering another crucial Big Ten series.
The Badgers’ offense posted an impressive 46 shots on the Fighting Irish’s goal during that game. Star forward Trent Frederic, alternate captain Seamus Malone, defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk, and the 5’3″ Sean Dhooghe scored in the rout while goaltender Jack Berry stopped all 40 of Notre Dame’s shots on net throughout the afternoon.
Up front, Wisconsin’s offense-by-committee philosophy was on full display during the Notre Dame rout. Frederic and Malone — the team’s top centers — each scored a goal and added an assist, while Dhooghe’s two goals also showed that the Badgers can get secondary scoring from its bottom two line combinations. Alternate captain Ryan Wagner leads the team in scoring with 22 points in 27 games; this may not seem impressive on paper, but he’s one of ten Badger skaters with more than ten points on the season.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s defense is statistically middle-of-the-pack in college hockey, but also coming off of its strongest performance of the season. Jack Berry has only appeared in 8 of the Badgers’ 27 games so far this season, but expect Tony Granato to stick with the hot hand this weekend with Penn State coming to town. Berry has posted a 4-3-0 record in seven starts, an extremely solid 2.32 goals-against average, and a .919 save percentage when called upon to start in goal.
Penn State certainly has its hands full with this weekend’s series against a hot Wisconsin team. Confidence is certainly running high through the Kohl Center in Madison, but the Badgers’ main priority should be avoiding a hangover from their best game of the season.
The Nittany Lions’ potent offense made short work of Wisconsin’s defense during the teams’ last meetings at Pegula Ice Arena, scoring eight times on the way to taking five out of six points in the standings.
The offense has gone cold in recent games against Ohio State and Michigan, so the group of forwards will certainly be poised to get things back on track this weekend.
Penn State and Wisconsin last met earlier this month at Pegula Ice Arena. Game one of this two-game set was a resounding 5-1 victory for the Nittany Lions — Nate Sucese posted his first collegiate hat trick in the winning effort. The second game was much tighter, finishing tied at three after 65 minutes of hockey. Penn State picked up the extra point in the Big Ten standings following a Liam Folkes shootout win to cap off a series victory.
A desperate Penn State team will enter this series with hopes of getting back on track following a three-game losing skid. Emotions will certainly run high throughout the weekend as this is the Badgers’ first home series since Jim Johannson’s passing, so I think this series has “split” written all over it. Bonus prediction: Wisconsin native Cole Hults will score at least once for the Nittany Lions.