Know Your Enemy: No. 6 Penn State Hockey vs. No. 5 Ohio State
No. 6 Penn State men’s hockey (9-1-1, 1-1 Big Ten) will travel outside of Pennsylvania for the first time this season for its road series with No. 5 Ohio State. The Nittany Lions opened conference play with a home split against No. 14 Michigan, but face a much stiffer test in the Buckeyes.
All eyes in Columbus will be on “The Game” between the Buckeyes and Wolverines on the gridiron this weekend, but Ohio State men’s hockey (8-3-1, 3-1 Big Ten) is no slouch, either. The Buckeyes actually spent a weekend at the top spot in the USCHO poll, but didn’t live up to the ranking.
A split with UMass on October 19 and 20 wasn’t enough to hold on to the No. 1 ranking, and the team’s next weekend set in Columbus didn’t go any better. Bowling Green came into the Buckeyes’ rink and throttled them 8-2 in the series opener. It then held Steve Rohlik’s program to a 2-2 tie in the second game.
Ohio State seems to have put those poor results in the rear-view mirror, as it’s won four straight games and five of its last six since that 2-2 tie against the Falcons. A 2-1 loss to Notre Dame is Ohio State’s only blemish this month.
The team’s key to success is truly its defense and goaltending. Tommy Nappier and Sean Romeo have combined to become one of college hockey’s best one-two punches between the pipes. Both players are backstopping the fourth-best defense in the nation — they’ve allowed an average of 1.83 goals per game while saving 93.8 percent of shots they face.
Nappier’s numbers are much stronger than Romeo’s thus far — both netminders have four victories this year, but the sophomore’s 1.27 goals-against average is fourth in the nation while his .958 save percentage is the best in college hockey. That’s not to say Romeo has underperformed; his 4-2-0 record, 2.17 goals-against average, and .918 save percentage are all solid, as well.
Meanwhile, team captain Sasha Larocque has anchored the team’s defense on its top pairing with 118 games of college experience under his belt. Freshman defenseman Ryan O’Connell is another player to watch on the Buckeye blue line. He was a seventh-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2017 NHL Draft and is still looking for his first collegiate point.
As always, Ohio State boasts lots of firepower up front, but hasn’t seen much production from its forwards this season. Despite playing the likes of Tanner Laczynski, Mason Jobst, and Carson Meyer up front, the Buckeyes average of 2.42 goals per game puts them among the bottom 20 teams in the nation.
Laczynski, a Philadelphia Flyers’ draft pick, leads the way with 11 points in nine games, while Jobst has the team-high in goals with seven. Senior center Dakota Joshua has always performed well against the Nittany Lions, so there’s no reason to expect anything different this weekend in Columbus.
Ohio State’s two-headed monster in goal will give Penn State’s high-flying offense its toughest test of the season. Romeo and Nappier split the team’s two games against Wisconsin last weekend, so expect more of the same with the Nittany Lions in town.
The Nittany Lions are averaging a ridiculous 5.73 goals per game through 11 contests, easily the best in the nation. Sophomores Evan Barratt and Alex Limoges are tied for the national lead in points with 19, while junior Nikita Pavlychev isn’t far behind in fourth place with 17.
This weekend’s series could go either way — the Buckeyes could get blown out by a dynamic group of Nittany Lion forwards or Penn State could run into a brick wall and struggle to produce offensively for the first time all season long.
The last series between Penn State and Ohio State truly was a tale of two games. The Nittany Lions got off to an electric start with a 5-2 win in the opener, but came out flat the next night en route to a 5-1 loss at Pegula Ice Arena. Ohio State leads the all-time series 12-8-2.
I’m not sure which team will win this one, but it’s going to be a hell of a series. If I had to predict the future, one of Romeo or Nappier will come up clutch and give the Buckeyes a tight 3-2 win in the series opener, but Penn State’s offense will wake up and grab a commanding 6-2 victory on Saturday night to earn another split in conference play.
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The redshirt freshman has seen increased reps at wide receiver and punt returner this season.
Coming off another conference win, the Nittany Lions emphasized the importance of having each other’s backs in the midst of the Big Ten slate.
“Now, running out of the tunnel at a White Out, it gives you chills.”