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Hockey Preview: #19 Penn State Nittany Lions

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The Spartans take on the Nittany Lions in a key league series

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan State Spartans, for the first time in weeks return to a full B1G weekend, hosting the Penn State Nittany Lions at Munn Ice Arena. The Nittany Lions come into the weekend just two points behind league leader Michigan, while the Spartans tumbled to 4th place last weekend losing their only game, while Minnesota swept Ohio State. 4th place appears to be the floor for the Spartans this season, meaning the rest of the way they can focus on moving up the league table.

The Spartans last played the Nittany Lions in mid-January getting only two out of a possible six points. After winning the shootout on Friday, the Spartans ran into a buzzsaw Nittany Lions team Saturday who scored 4 goals in the final two periods to win 5-2. It was a charged Penn State crowd on Saturday, with the unveiling of a third jersey and a charged campus in general as deity Joe Paterno had his wins reinstated that week by the NCAA. The Spartans are hoping for a reversal of fortunes and a packed house at Munn Ice Arena this weekend.

In his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Tom Anastos talked about Penn State having one of the best forward lines in the entire country. David Goodwin, Taylor Holstrom and Casey Bailey are the top three scorers on the team and play on a line together. Holstrom plays the typical center role (6 goals, 21 assists) being a distributor to Bailey and Goodwin on the wings.That line has scored 37 of a total 93 goals on the season for the Nittany Lions (39.7%). Needless to say, shutting down scoring opportunities for the Nittany Lions' top line will be a priority for the Spartans this weekend.

The Nittany Lions are known for one thing by everyone nationally, they will shoot the puck from anywhere and as often as possible. The Nittany Lions have taken 1,082 shots this season (41.6/game 1st in the country by 5 shots) compared to 810 against. By comparison Michigan State has taken 739 shots (30.8/game) while giving up 711 (29.6/game). Jake Hildebrand will have to be ready for shots from anywhere and look to control rebounds to not turn poor shots into scoring opportunities. Also, look for Michigan State to stick to their guns and make shot blocking a priority again this weekend.

Michigan State Spartans 10-12-2, (4-4-2-2 B1G) vs. #19 Penn State Nittany Lions 15-7-4 (7-2-1 B1G)

Time/TV: 7:00 PM Friday (Fox Sports Detroit), 6:00 PM Saturday (BTN)

Webstream: BTN2Go (Both nights)

Radio: Spartan Sports Network

SBN Penn State Blog: Black Shoe Diaries

Michigan State Spartans Stats Match-Up (National Rank) #19 Penn State Nittany Lions
2.25 (45) Goals Scored/Game 3.58 (5)
2.46 (24) Goals Against/Game 2.73 (36)
13-of-89 14.61% (45) Power Play Percentage 22-of-100 22.00% (9)
72-of-83 86.7% (13) Penalty Kill Percentage 73-of-88 83.0% (30)
Matt Berry (Sr) 8G, 9A 17pts Leading Scorer Casey Bailey (Jr) 19G, 14A 33pts

Jake Hildebrand (Jr) 10-12-2

2.38 GAA, .920 save %

Expected Goaltenders

Matthew Skoff (Jr) 7-4-2

2.69 GAA, .913 save %

3 keys to success

  1. Continued discipline- The Spartans are one of the least penalized teams in the country. That trend will have to continue if the Spartans want to get points out of the weekend. The Nittany Lions are great on the power play and with a team that shoots as much as they do, the last thing you want to do is give them better shooting lanes with a man advantage.
  2. Take a cue from Penn State- The Penn State defense and goaltenders have had their rough stretches this season. The Spartans could do well by themselves by taking a page out of the Nittany Lions' playbook and look to shoot early and often. When they get across the blue line look to shoot quickly and then crash the net looking for rebounds.
  3. Travis Walsh & Josh Jacobs- Unlike when the Spartans played in Happy Valley, Tom Anastos will have the last line change this weekend. Look for Anastos to be selective with who he puts out against the Penn State top line and I believe it will be Jacobs and Walsh often getting the call. They will need to have one of their best weekends if the Spartans want to be successful.

Around the B1G

Minnesota will look to climb back up the league rankings as they sit 6 points behind leader Michigan and they host the Wolverines in St.Paul this weekend. The league's bottom teams Wisconsin and Ohio State meet at Value City Arena in Ohio.

Extra pucks in the bag

I sure hope the A-Team student section at Munn has been paying attention to Twitter this week. The Roar Zone (Penn State's student section) has been tweeting out Valentine's Day cards featuring their Nittany Lions. I hope to see these blown up on poster board and ridiculed this weekend at Munn. Extra points to Kenny Brooks just chessin' hardcore in his picture.

Extra Reading: Bloomburg Business did an article this week about big business in Detroit AAA Hockey. This is the pipeline that dried up under Rick Comley and the pipeline Tom Anastos has reestablished with his 2016 class. One small section to show the depths that are reached at insane ages:

Florida real estate magnate and hockey fanatic Jeffrey Soffer was so eager to have his 11-year-old play in Detroit that last year he reached out to Mike Hamilton, then a highly regarded coach for HoneyBaked. Soffer is chairman and chief executive officer of Turnberry Associates LLC, a multibillion-dollar real estate firm that owns the Fontainebleau Miami Beach resort. He is also the husband of model and businesswoman Macpherson.

His son Logan played wing last season for the Snow Kings in Aspen, Colorado. Dad Soffer approached Hamilton about bringing Logan and a few of his teammates to play for the coach in Detroit. Hamilton says he couldn’t work out an arrangement with HoneyBaked so he migrated to Belle Tire, where director Kay says, “I’ve been trying to get Mike over here for years.”

That's right a coach left HoneyBaked to go to Belle Tire, all over a billionaire's son flying from Miami for practices and games each week and flying home. AAU basketball is beginning to blush.