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Know Your Enemy: No. 6 Penn State Hockey vs. Wisconsin

No. 6 Penn State men’s hockey (10-2-1, 2-2-0 Big Ten) has split each of its first two in-conference series with Michigan and Ohio State, but has a slightly less difficult matchup to work with this weekend.

The Nittany Lions will travel to Madison to take on the Wisconsin Badgers for a two-game set at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin has struggled early on this season, but anything can happen in Big Ten hockey.

The Team

Wisconsin (5-7-2, 1-3-2 Big Ten) is one of three teams in the Big Ten outside of this week’s USCHO poll ranking. Its first three conference series haven’t gone to plan — the Badgers’ only victory over a Big Ten opponent came on home ice against Minnesota three weeks ago.

Wisconsin coach Tony Granato also led the United States’ 2018 Olympic men’s hockey team and served as both a head and assistant coach in the NHL for parts of 15 seasons. Granato is in his fourth season in charge of the program, and boasts a 39-41-7 record.

As far as the 2018-19 Badgers are concerned, their offense’s 2.71 goals per game is tied for No. 37 in the country, but their real problem comes on defense. Despite having a pairing of two stud puck-movers on the blue line, Wisconsin has allowed nearly three goals per game this season.

Forwards

Senior alternate captain Seamus Malone leads the way up front for the Badgers. He’s tied for the team lead in points with 11 through 14 games while playing on a line with junior Will Johnson and fellow senior Max Zimmer. Malone’s linemates haven’t been as productive, combining for 13 points this season.

Scoring among Wisconsin’s top six is divided up nicely — the second line of freshman Jack Gorniak and sophomores Sean Dhooghe and Tarek Baker has been fairly productive this year. Gorniak, a fourth-round NHL draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens, has just four points, but Dhooghe and Baker have nine and 10 points, respectively.

Dhooghe in particular is a player to watch for the Badgers: He leads Wisconsin in goals with seven, scored last season against Penn State, and played alongside Penn State’s Evan Barratt for the United States at the World Junior Summer Showcase.

Wisconsin’s scoring depth is nowhere near the level of Penn State’s — the Nittany Lions have scored nearly twice as many goals as the Badgers this season. For perspective, six Nittany Lions forwards have tallied more than ten points, while only two Badgers have accomplished the same feat after losing high-scoring forward Trent Frederic to the Boston Bruins.

Defense & Goaltending

Wisconsin’s defense has conceded 2.86 goals per game, which ranks in the middle of college hockey at No. 30 in the country.

Junior Jack Berry, who was in goal for Penn State and Wisconsin’s Big Ten title clash in 2017, has struggled this year — he has a 2-4-1 record, a 3.42 goals-against average, and a sub-.900 save percentage in eight appearances. Even so, the Badgers continue to use him in a limited role.

When Berry’s not on the ice, freshman goalkeeper Daniel Lebedeff has stepped in and impressed, His record of 3-3-1 in eight appearances isn’t spectacular, but he ranks third in the Big Ten in save percentage with a .922 mark and fourth with a 2.26 goals-against average. Expect to see Lebedeff in the net in both games of this weekend’s series.

As far as the blue line is concerned, both of the Badgers’ two best defensemen are each excellent puck movers. Sophomore Wyatt Kalynuk is tied for the team lead in points with 11 and is one of college hockey’s more underrated blueliners.

Freshman K’Andre Miller is tied for second on the team in points with 10. Penn State is no stranger to facing elite offensive defensemen (remember Michigan’s Quinn Hughes?), but Miller will pose a new challenge to the Nittany Lions’ defense.

Last Meeting

Penn State last took on Wisconsin in January, and it didn’t end well for the Nittany Lions. A 4-2 loss in the series opener was quickly followed up by a 4-4 tie with a shootout loss as Wisconsin took five of six points from the series.

Gadowsky’s program is usually better at the Kohl Center in Madison — the Nittany Lions are 6-5-1 in away games against the Badgers and lead the all-time series 14-9-2.

Prediction

The Nittany Lions are off to an up-and-down start to conference play, but Wisconsin’s defensive deficiencies make me think the top-ranked offense in the country will feast in Madison this weekend. I’ll take a 5-1 win for the Nittany Lions on Friday night followed by a 6-5 overtime win on Saturday to complete Penn State’s first Big Ten sweep of the season.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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