Circa 2004 in the Dewar household, Penn State University was a dream destination for a young Jeremy. Being realistic with myself, I knew playing D1 varsity hockey was a pipe dream and club hockey was a far more likely option, and Penn State was the club hockey dynasty. The Ice Lions (as the club team is known) won ACHA D1 championships in 2000-01, 2001-02 and 2002-03. The Lions followed up that championship run by losing in the national title game for 4 years running and talk began of how much sense it made for Penn State to move from the club ranks and become a varsity program.
Fast forward to present day and the Penn State Nittany Lions (new fancy varsity name) are in the midst of their second year in NCAA D1 hockey and their first season playing in a conference. After receiving a $88 million donation in 2010 from alumnus and Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula, Penn State touched off a landscape change in NCAA hockey. The B1G and NCHC conferences were formed, the WCHA lost old members and added new ones and the CCHA went the way of the Dodo. You could say that, without Penn State hockey, the Spartans probably have a different head coach, as Tom Anastos would still have a league to be the commissioner of.
Pegula Ice Arena Facility Tour (via GoPSUTV)
This weekend, the Nittany Lions travel to East Lansing for the second time in their program history and their first as a conference foe. Last season was a weekend split as the Spartans beat the Nittany Lions 5-3 and lost 3-2. Last weekend the Spartans earned 2 points at Ohio State earning a shootout victory Saturday after losing Friday. Penn State comes to East Lansing on a short week after being swept in a Sunday-Monday series by top ranked Minnesota.
Penn State Nittany Lions 4-10-1 (0-4 B1G)
Time/TV: 6:00 p.m. Friday (BTN), 6:30 Saturday (NBC Sports Network)
Coach: Guy Gadowsky has a career record of 190-224-38 and is in his 2nd season at Penn State. Gadowsky is seen as a turnaround specialist and one of the best young coaches in college hockey. Gadowsky began his college career at Alaska-Fairbanks taking over a program that had never won more than 14 games since joining the CCHA. By his 3rd season Gadowsky had Alaska ranked 11th in the country and over the 20 win plateau. After 5 years at Alaska, Gadowsky left to turn around a Princeton program that had won 8 games in two seasons. The Tigers won 8 games in his first year and had increasing win totals for his first 5 years. In year 4 and 5, the Tigers won 21 and 22 games respectively and earned an NCAA berth, still the only two appearances for Gadowsky.
Players to Watch: The Nittany Lions feature only 5 upper classmen and their leading scorer only has 13 points, so no one instantly jumps off the page at you. Sophomore forward Casey Bailey has only 3 points thus far this season, but was the leading scorer last year with 27 points. Eric Scheid is the leading scorer this season with 8 goals, which is double any other player on the Nittany Lions. Tommy Olczyk has 4 goals and 7 points this season and has a familiar name for hockey fans, he is the son of NBC color analyst Eddie 'Edzo' Olczyk. Freshman goaltender Eamon McAdam doesn't have the best numbers thus far (4.23 GAA, .885 save %) but was mentioned as a rising talent by Ben Jones in this week's Q&A and is one of five Nittany Lions who have been drafted (New York islanders).
3 Keys For MSU Success
- Quick Start- Penn State is a young team that is still learning to play division 1 hockey. They are 1-8-1 when trailing after the first period. This is a weekend where the Spartans need to take over the game quickly and use their experience to close out the game. Not many match-ups this year will the Spartans be the more experienced team and they need to take advantage of it.
- Power Play- The Michigan State power play is not good, as it only converts on 13.9% of man advantage opportunities. However, it has been on an upswing scoring in 4 of the last 6 games. Penn State is the 9th most penalized team and kills less than 80% of their penalties. The power play could play a large part in the Spartans success this weekend.
- Depth- As noted above, the Nittany Lions are a young team and do not have high end producers on the roster. The Spartans need to get more consistent contributions from their whole roster, as one weekend the freshman 2nd line carries the scoring and the next week they get zero points. With Matt Berry coming on lately (5 goals in 4 games) it would be great if the Spartans could get their top two lines contributing together. This is a great weekend, against an over matched opponent, for depth to shine through.
Analysis: There is no sugarcoating this one, the Spartans need a sweep. This is a Penn State team, in only its second year as a varsity program, that is 55th in the nation allowing just under 4 goals per game. The Spartans have a chance to move into 3rd place in the B1G with a scuffling MIchigan and a series against their arch rivals next weekend. I stated last weekend the importance of the two series against Ohio State and Penn State, and a sweep is needed to stay in contention for a top 3 finish in the league, which is looking more possible now than just a few weeks ago.
Around the B1G: Michigan and Wisconsin are both off this weekend. Minnesota plays Ohio State outdoors in the Hockey City Classic Friday at TCF Bank Stadium and inside at Mariucci Arena Saturday. If you think being outside for 3+ hours in Minnesota in January sounds awful, you clearly haven't seen the giveaway item for the Hockey City Classic.
Meanwhile, in awesome outdoor game giveaway news, students going to Hockey City Classic get these from @GopherHockey pic.twitter.com/Lj45XNw82b— Chris Peters (@chrismpeters) January 15, 2014