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Know Your Enemy: Penn State Men’s Hockey vs. North Dakota

Penn State men’s hockey is off to a very impressive start to its season.

Through six games, The Nittany Lions have a conference-best +13 goal differential and 5-1 record to tie with Michigan for first place in the Big Ten. The team enters its next game riding a three-game winning streak, and it’ll need all the momentum it can get to leave Nashville with a win.

The Nittany Lions will be at the center of the college hockey world when they take the ice on Saturday, October 30, at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee, against the No. 6 team in the country. Unlike Penn State’s prior matchups, this game will not be part of a two-game series.

Here’s what to expect when Penn State takes the ice as part of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game.

Overview

After cruising by LIU, Canisius, and Niagara, Penn State hits the road for the first time this season to face the Fighting Hawks. North Dakota enters the game with a record of 4-2 after splitting consecutive two-game series with No. 17 Bemidji State and No. 5 Quinnipiac.

North Dakota is led by junior forward Ashton Calder, who leads the team in goals with seven and a plus/minus of seven. Sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson also enters the game with seven assists while leading the team with 19 shots on goal. The starting goaltender for the Fighting Hawks on Saturday will be senior Zach Driscoll. Driscoll enters the game with a 2.35 goals-against average and a save percentage of .907.

Last season, North Dakota finished with a 22-6-1 record and an 8-3-1 record at a neutral site. Saturday’s game in Nashville will be North Dakota’s first game at a neutral site this season.

The Fighting Hawks enter Saturday’s game sporting strong penalty kill numbers. The Fighting Hawks have killed 24 out of 27 penalties this season. Similar to Penn State, North Dakota has had its fair share of struggles in staying out of the penalty box but has a very strong penalty kill to counteract its discipline problems.

Despite a very difficult stretch to begin its season, North Dakota has still been able to put up very respectable numbers both offensively and defensively. Through six games, the Fighting Hawks have a +7 goal differential. Both Penn State and North Dakota have had two-game series against Niagara, both resulting in sweeps.

Keys To The Game

If Penn State wants to shock the college hockey world and leave Nashville with a win, the Nittany Lions need to stay disciplined. In their brief two-game series against Niagara, the Nittany Lions committed 11 penalties, and through its first six games, Penn State has committed 28 penalties. While the penalty kill has been a big part of the team’s early success thanks to a 96.4% kill rate, Penn State needs to be more disciplined if it wants to have a shot at beating the No. 6 team in the country. So far this season, North Dakota is 5-for-20 on the power play.

Another key for Penn State this Saturday will be the play of goaltender Oskar Autio. Through six games this season, Autio has a 1.50 goals-against average and a save percentage of .938. North Dakota has scored 3.7 goals per game on around 25 shots per game so far this season. If the Nittany Lions want to have any shot of pulling off the upset in Nashville, Autio must continue playing the way he has all season.

The biggest key for North Dakota is to play to its style of hockey and not fall victim to Penn State’s physical style of play. The Nittany Lions are known for a very physical “Penn State hockey” playstyle that can be used to wear teams down. If North Dakota wants to avoid the upset in Nashville, it needs to play to its strengths and not fall into Penn State’s trap.

Prediction

This game will be unlike any other that Penn State will play this season. It presents a big opportunity for the Nittany Lions to prove that they’re an elite program in college hockey. However, it won’t be an easy one. North Dakota is not only the No. 6 team in the country but also one of the most explosive and fundamentally sound teams in the nation.

Despite Penn State coming into this one riding a winning streak, I still believe that the better team will prevail in the end. While I expect it to be close because of the elite level of play of Oskar Autio, I’m going to say that the North Dakota Fighting Hawks will beat Penn State 3-1.

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About the Author

Devon Craley

Devon is a junior studying sports journalism. He has the genuine misfortune of being a Philadelphia sports fan...IYKYK. Send your hot takes and preferably your freezing cold takes on Twitter to @devon3134. Devon is also your friendly, neighborhood State College movie nerd.

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