Despite Significant Gap In Conference Standings, Penn State Hockey Not Overlooking Michigan
No. 6 Penn State hockey’s upcoming series against Michigan is a perfect case study in why the phrase “on paper” is pretty much useless in the sport.
On paper, Penn State should blow the doors off the Wolverines this weekend. The Nittany Lions are ranked sixth in the PairWise, while their opponents this weekend are ranked 31st with a 9-11-2 record. Penn State has gotten excellent goaltending and defensive play on top of its notoriously-high-volume offense, and it’ll take on a struggling offense that’s scored just 2.32 goals per game this year.
Despite the on-paper advantages his team has over Michigan, head coach Guy Gadowsky isn’t underestimating the Wolverines — especially considering Penn State’s performance against Robert Morris last Saturday. Although the final score read 6-2 in favor of the Nittany Lions, the head coach wasn’t pleased with certain aspects of his team’s performance in Pittsburgh.
“Although we had a positive result, we gave up six odd-man rushes — including a breakaway on the penalty kill — and 44 shots against,” Gadowsky said. “With Michigan coming in, if we take the same attitude and say, ‘hey, we won that game, we’re all good,’ we’ll be in big, big, big, big, BIG trouble. … They just swept Notre Dame on the road. If we’re looking past them, we have bigger issues.”
Penn State currently leads the Big Ten’s standings with 24 points and an 8-4-0 conference mark. Michigan has won just four of its first 12 conference games, and it currently sits in sixth in the conference’s standings with 13 points. If those weren’t enough reasons to perhaps underestimate Michigan, the team lost a pair of first-round NHL Draft picks in the offseason.
Defenseman Quinn Hughes (No. 7 overall, 2018) and center Josh Norris (No. 19 overall, 2017) got their professional careers started with the Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators’ organizations, respectively. Hughes and Norris obviously didn’t leave behind a talentless team, which still boasts a nice mix of veteran contributors and talented freshmen.
“They’ve got a few pretty good ones, too,” Gadowsky said. “Johnny Beecher had a heck of a tournament and was a first-rounder [in the NHL Draft]. Michigan is always going to be loaded. We have enough to worry enough with what’s there and what isn’t.”
Beecher has scored 10 points in 18 games throughout his freshman year, and the team also boasts Cam York — another first-round pick in 2019 who’s one of the Philadelphia Flyers’ most promising prospects on the blue line. That’s not to mention steady veteran presences like Jake Slaker and Will Lockwood — the team’s leading scorers with 12 and 11 points, respectively, this year.
At the end of the day, hockey games played between Penn State and Michigan are almost guaranteed to be tight-checking affairs. The teams’ first series of this season ended in a split — Mel Pearson’s team won the first game 4-1 before Penn State took the second game 3-1 — and Penn State’s players expect more of the same this weekend.
“We know they’re going to be good, tight games, just like they were in Michigan,” junior wing Alex Limoges said. “We love playing at home, with the energy of the crowd. We just have to play hard, set the tone, and try to outwork them.”
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With THON coming up this weekend, if this is your first time in the stands FTK, you may have a question or two.
“You have to take in every little moment, because 46 hours may seem like a long time, but it goes by so fast.”
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