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Penn State Men’s Hockey’s Near-Perfect Game Simply Wasn’t Enough To Outlast A Better Michigan Team

The Nittany Lions got hot at the right time, but, so did Michigan.

Penn State steamrolled Michigan Tech 8-0 in the NCAA Regional Semifinal to put them one win away from their first-ever trip to the Frozen Four. The only problem was that the Nittany Lions ran into a team that was somehow even hotter. Much like Penn State, Michigan dominated Colgate 11-1 in the semifinal round to advance to the Allentown Regional Finals.

The Wolverines were no strangers to Penn State entering Friday night’s matchup. The two teams had faced off four times during the regular season, with Michigan winning three of the games. Penn State needed to play a near-perfect game to pull off the upset and advance to the Frozen Four.

That’s why this pill is especially tough for the Nittany Lions to swallow. Guy Gadowsky’s team did play a near-perfect game and somehow, someway, the Nittany Lions are going home while the Wolverines are dancing their way to Tampa to play for a national championship. So, why couldn’t Penn State get it done in the end? It simply ran into a better team.

It might sound cliché, but the better team won Sunday night. While that may be tough for Penn State to admit right now, it can be looked at as a step in the right direction knowing that the Nittany Lions took a stacked team that was built to win championships all the way to overtime in one of the best college hockey games in recent memory.

“I actually think we played well. I thought we had good chances. It’s a really good team. I’m not going to get frustrated because they’re good,” Gadowsky said following the game.

Team captain Paul DeNaples also spoke after the game about some of the differences between Penn State and Michigan.

“We don’t have all these draft picks, but we compete with these teams every night all season,” DeNaples said.

Michigan entered Sunday’s regional final with 10 players in its starting lineup that had some kind of current affiliation with an NHL team. Penn State has just two — forwards Kevin Wall and Chase McLane.

DeNaples, who played in his last game ever for Penn State on Sunday, reflected on his time in Happy Valley and spoke about the culture and improvements of the squad — something that was on display in the Nittany Lions’ game against Michigan

“I hoped I set an example off the ice,” DeNaples said. “They’re gonna recruit good guys, there’s gonna be good players coming here but it’s important to have a good team and good team culture. It was great when I got here and when I stepped foot on campus, and one of my goals was to have the program be better when I’m done here than it was when I got here.”

The culture of the program and its importance to the team’s success has become a big factor for Gadowsky’s squad over the past few seasons since the COVID-19 pandemic. While the culture inside the men’s hockey locker room is incredibly high entering next season, and with a perfect leader in Gadowsky, a loss to the talented Wolverines proved that lack of talent is perhaps the one thing keeping Penn State from taking that next step to Michigan’s level.

The Wolverines are loaded with NHL-ready players and are headlined by two future NHL superstars. Defenseman Luke Hughes was drafted with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft by the New Jersey Devils and is expected to join the Devils for their playoff push following the conclusion of Michigan’s season. Then, there is forward Adam Fantilli, the first goal scorer for Michigan in Sunday night’s win over Penn State. Fantilli is projected to be a top-five pick in this summer’s upcoming 2023 NHL Entry Draft.

This comes a year after four of the top five picks in the 2021 NHL Entry draft all played at Michigan. Penn State has never had a player selected in the first round.

Penn State lost Sunday night, and it wasn’t because it was outcoached, nor was it because it didn’t play a great game. The Nittany Lions lost because they just simply aren’t as talented as Michigan or the other top teams in college hockey.

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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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