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Know Your Enemy: Penn State Men’s Hockey vs. No. 2 Michigan

No. 19 Penn State men’s hockey enters its biggest two-game stretch of the season following a disappointing two-game sweep at the hands of Ohio State last weekend. With another opportunity to gain another upset, the Nittany Lions face their toughest opponent this season with the No. 2 Michigan Wolverines entering Pegula Ice Arena this weekend.

With one of college hockey’s deepest rosters, Michigan presents a challenge unlike anything that Penn State has seen in a long time. The Nittany Lions will likely need to play to near perfection if they want to knock off a top ten team for the second time this season

Here’s what to expect when No. 19 Penn State and No. 2 Michigan drop the puck this week.

Overview

After knocking off North Dakota in Nashville and soaring up to as high as No. 16, Penn State struggled greatly in Columbus against Ohio State, getting outscored 9-3 in a two-game Buckeyes sweep.

Through 10 games, Michigan owns a very impressive 8-2 record with losses to No. 17 Western Michigan and Wisconsin. In its most recent series, Michigan swept a home and home series over Michigan State.

The Wolverines enter Pegula boasting perhaps the most amount of star power in all of college hockey. With 12 NHL draftees and six first-round picks, including the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NHL Draft, Owen Power, Michigan sits at No. 2 in the entire country behind only St. Cloud State.

Sophomore forwards Kent Johnson and Brendan Brisson lead the team in points and goals, respectively. Owen Power, Matthew Beniers, and Luke Hughes — the first, second, and fifth overall picks in the 2021 NHL Draft — have combined for 31 points through the team’s first 10 games.

Wolverines goaltender Erik Portillo has started all 10 games so far and has registered a .919 save percentage with a goals-against average of 2.20. Portillo was selected in the third round of the 2019 NHL Draft by the Buffalo Sabres.

Michigan won’t be the only team Pegula this week with NHL prospects. Penn State has three players currently on its roster that have been selected in NHL Drafts: Kevin Wall, Chase McLane, and Clayton Phillips.

Keys To The Game

Both teams have very different keys to victory in this series. Michigan can simply use its size and speed to force Penn State to play catch-up and chase pucks in its own zone.

Penn State’s key to victory isn’t as simple. If the Nittany Lions want to shock the college hockey world once again, they need to control the game from start to finish using their physicality and strong play from goaltender Oskar Autio. Through nine games, Autio has appeared in six matchups, registering a .917% save percentage and a goals-against average of 2.78.

If Penn State wants to even be able to keep up with Michigan on the ice this week, its best players need to shine the brightest. Kevin Wall, Connor McEachern, and Clayton Phillips have played their best hockey of the season lately for the Nittany Lions. Penn State will be unable to go toe-to-toe with the Wolverines in the open ice and on paper, but if their best players can play like it, and if the Nittany Lions can gain the advantage in time of possession, an upset could be brewing at Pegula this week.

Prediction

Expect Penn State to rebound nicely following a rough outing in Columbus last weekend. However, we don’t see a scenario in which the Nittany Lions can pull out a win over the Wolverines. Michigan is too talented, too fast, and too fundamentally sound for Penn State to compete with. While we expect it to be closer than most are suggesting, we still see Michigan sweeping Penn State on Thursday and Friday. Michigan wins 3-2 on Thursday night and 4-1 on Friday night.

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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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