No. 17 Penn State Hockey Not Intimidated By Challenge Of Facing No. 2 Notre Dame
This weekend is undoubtedly the biggest weekend of the season No. 17 Penn State men’s hockey. No. 2 Notre Dame (20-5-1, 14-2-0 Big Ten) is coming to Pegula Ice Arena for the teams’ final meetings of the season. The odds are certainly stacked against the Nittany Lions, but they aren’t intimidated by the challenge.
Although the team didn’t find the results it wanted during last weekend’s series against Wisconsin, there were plenty of positives scattered throughout the weekend.
“We know we did a lot of things very, very well last weekend,” Gadowsky said. “We have a few minor details to tighten up, and that’s our focus.”
Despite dropping both games, the Nittany Lions did manage to continue their national second-best scoring ways, putting up six goals in those two games. Neither of the losses were blowouts, either. Penn State let a third period lead slip away in the opener and fell in a shootout to the Badgers on Saturday.
Transitioning back to home ice for the first time since early January, the Nittany Lions will have a special environment to play in this weekend.
Gadowsky’s players are looking forward to the opportunity to welcome the Fighting Irish to Pegula in front of what should be a raucous White Out atmosphere.
“[Notre Dame] is obviously such a big-time school,” junior right winger Andrew Sturtz said. “Everyone knows who they are. It’s gonna be a good weekend because of that. You come to the Big Ten to play against these kind of teams. We’re excited to have Pegula rocking on Friday and Saturday night.”
“Last year I had goosebumps [during the White Out],” sophomore left wing Denis Smirnov said. “It was an awesome experience. Obviously we didn’t win that game, but it was fun to play in front of that.”
Even with the crowd against them, the Fighting Irish will be a force to be reckoned with. Notre Dame has swept every school in the Big Ten — including Penn State — once and is yet to lose a conference series in their first season as a member of the Big Ten’s hockey conference.
Sitting at the top of the PairWise rankings and somehow in an even more dominant position in the conference standings, it has essentially clinched home ice throughout the Big Ten Tournament and would need the wheels to completely fall off for the program to not reach its third consecutive NCAA Tournament.
The prospect of taking on a team of this stature could be intimidating for some, but sophomore Liam Folkes doesn’t sense that apprehension heading into this weekend’s set.
“Notre Dame’s obviously really high-ranked,” Folkes said. “It’s always exciting playing a team as good as Notre Dame. It’s more of an opportunity for us than an intimidation factor. We were in the same position last year and everyone had the opportunity to challenge us when we were No. 1.”
With a pair of players receiving Hobey Baker Award nominations and a goalie in Cale Morris who’s given up just 1.61 goals per game — good for third-best in the nation — the Notre Dame roster is stacked with talent.
However, Guy Gadowsky thinks the key to the Fighting Irish’s success does not lie in the team’s 20-man lineup fielded every game. He thinks the best part of Notre Dame is the team’s structure and coaching.
“Notre Dame is extremely well-coached,” he said. “Coach [Jeff] Jackson and his whole staff are phenomenal, and that has been a reputation of that program for a while. They’re not going to beat themselves; they’re extremely disciplined and extremely well-coached. They’re as consistent as you get, and I think they’re No. 1 in terms of defensive consistency.”
Gadowsky’s Nittany Lions will play game one of their series against Notre Dame at 6:30 p.m. Friday.