Penn State Men’s Hockey Running Out Of Time To Improve Tournament Chances
It has been almost one month since the Nittany Lions last took the ice, and Penn State men’s hockey has nearly run out of time to catch up in the Big Ten hockey standings.
Penn State canceled its series with Arizona State, postponed its series with Ohio State, and canceled its upcoming games with Minnesota due to positive tests among the team’s “Tier 1” personnel. Before Penn State’s COVID-19 issues, the team’s series at Michigan on February 3 and 4 was also postponed due to positive tests within the Wolverines’ department.
While starting the season with a disappointing 0-5 record, the 9-9 Nittany Lions were riding a two-month-long hot streak before their games were canceled. The team had just split its series with Notre Dame and Wisconsin and swept its series with Michigan State while winning nine of its previous 14 games. Penn State then came off somewhat of a bye week and was ready to continue its climb in the Big Ten standings after its series with the Wolverines was postponed, but that’s when the team’s COVID issues began.
As the rest of the teams in the Big Ten have been racking up points and playing over the previous three weeks, the Nittany Lions haven’t gotten the opportunity to keep moving up in the Big Ten standings.
Even though they aren’t on the ice, the Nittany Lions surprisingly hold fifth place in the standings with 20 points, ahead of Ohio State (19 points) and Michigan State (15 points). However, the team sits nine points behind Notre Dame and Michigan.
In addition to not having the opportunity to move up in the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions missed out on playing against two top 10 teams in Michigan and Minnesota.
It was very possible for the Nittany Lions to gain more traction in the national rankings in addition to the conference standings if they could’ve gone at least 2-2 against the two teams, especially if they continued their resurgence in the Big Ten. Since the team hasn’t had the chance to influence the national rankings, the Big Ten Tournament seems like it’s becoming Penn State’s last chance to secure a spot in the NCAA Division I Ice Hockey Tournament.
Currently, Penn State has only one series left this season, with the team still scheduled to square off against Notre Dame on March 5 & 6 in South Bend, Indiana.
There are still 12 days between then and the start of the Big Ten Hockey Tournament for the Nittany Lions to potentially make up postponed games with the Wolverines and Buckeyes, but the Big Ten hasn’t announced the rescheduling of any contests just yet.
Even if the Nittany Lions are able to finally take the ice and practice again soon, it won’t be an easy return for the young team. Besides the fact that most of the team hasn’t skated much in the last four weeks, Notre Dame is a great, well-coached hockey team.
As already seen in the NHL and across major sports, the lingering effects of COVID-19 could also have an impact on player performance as well.
Despite the challenges of not playing in four weeks, the Nittany Lions also had over a three-week break earlier this season for Christmas and still picked up where they left off on their win streak.
With its high-scoring forwards and skilled freshmen, the team certainly has the talent to put together solid hockey games and make a run in the Big Ten tournament when it is cleared to play again.
If Penn State gets cleared to play after this weekend’s cancellation, the Nittany Lions will travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame on March 5 & 6. The games will be broadcasted on NBCSN and NBC Sports Philadelphia, respectively. The Big Ten Tournament, meanwhile, is scheduled to begin on March 18.
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“If they make a mistake, it’s not a failure unless you don’t try again.”
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