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Penn State Men’s Hockey Using Bye Week As Advantage Ahead Of Minnesota

While thousands of dancers and spectators pack the Bryce Jordan Center for THON, Penn State men’s hockey will be playing its biggest series of the season right across the street against No. 2 Minnesota.

The series comes amid a very tight standings race in the Big Ten, and it will be Penn State’s first set in two weeks. After getting swept by Michigan and splitting with Ohio State during a challenging post-New Year’s stretch, the team was on a bye last week.

That break gave the Nittany Lions ample time to rest, regroup, and prepare for the remainder of the season. It was also Penn State’s last break before the regular season’s conclusion and the start of the Big Ten Tournament.

But, the rest of the season starts with the daunting challenge of facing Minnesota. The Golden Gophers lead the conference by a mile, with their 46 points being far more than second-place Michigan at 35. In some ways, this is a must-sweep series for Penn State, as the Nittany Lions currently sit at sixth place in the Big Ten with 30 points, which is one point behind Ohio State, Michigan State, and Notre Dame.

Despite losing Brock Faber and Ryan Chesley, two key Gopher defensemen, Minnesota is very talented. Forwards Jimmy Snuggerud and Matthew Knies’ 17 goals are tied for the fifth-most in college hockey. Snuggerud’s 40 points rank No. 4 nationally, and right behind him is teammate Logan Cooley with 38.

Although facing Minnesota is no easy task, the Gophers are beatable. Back in November, Penn State defeated Minnesota 4-2 at Mariucci Arena. Just last weekend, Wisconsin upset the Gophers 3-1 in Madison.

“I think we just have to outwork them,” forward Tyler Paquette said.

The junior mentioned that capitalizing on Minnesota’s mistakes will be another important aspect of winning this weekend. Forward Connor McMenamin echoed Paquette, emphasizing that a consistent Penn State team is a powerful one.

“I think we just need to play our game,” McMenamin said. “When we’re consistent, we play a full 60-minute game of Penn State hockey. I don’t think a lot of teams can hang with us.”

Penn State has a big advantage with the amount of time off it’s had. The team was able to take things slower with more time to prepare for what’s next.

“It gave a lot of us an opportunity to rest and really focus,” McMenamin said. “We rested, we worked on some system stuff, and got ourselves ready for this upcoming weekend.”

Penn State had the time to not only rest and prepare but also allow players to fully recover from injuries. Head coach Guy Gadowsky confirmed Tuesday that “everybody” will be available this weekend besides possibly forward Ryan Kirwan, who is “day-to-day,” and forward Ben Schoen, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against Michigan last month. It’s tougher for players to stay healthy toward the end of the season when the amount of hockey played begins to take its toll and injuries become more common.

“We had some injuries, and I think that the rest really helps us,” Paquette said.

With two weeks of rest and preparation for the upcoming series, Penn State has all the tools in place for a successful weekend. It couldn’t have come at a better time for the Nittany Lions, as their biggest series of the season could be their make-or-break moment.

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About the Author

Nolan Wick

Nolan is a third-year journalism major from Silver Spring, Maryland, which means he's an avid fan of all D.C. sports teams. If Nolan isn't writing about or watching sports, you can probably find him listening to all sorts of music or traveling. To keep up with Nolan, you can follow him on Twitter @nolan_wick or email him at [email protected].

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