After the 1-4 start in Big Ten play for the men’s basketball team and the Event That Shall Not Be Named on Monday night in Houston, a palate cleanser for the MSU community is sorely needed. Luckily, the MSU hockey team is traveling to Penn State this weekend, and the Spartan Icers are hoping that the momentum of 2023 carries into the new calendar year.
GAME TIMES: Game 1 at Penn State - Friday January 12 at 7 PM, Game 2 at Penn State - Saturday January 13 at 4:30 PM
WATCH THE GAMES: Friday - BTN+, Saturday - Big Ten Network
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The Spartans travel to Penn State for their second series of the season, as the Nittany Lions visited Munn Ice Arena in November, skating to a 3-3 tie in the opener and a 5-3 Spartan win the following day. That win extended the Spartans’ unbeaten streak over Penn State to 5.
Since Penn State began fielding an NCAA hockey team in 2012, the Nittany Lions have feasted on a slumping Spartan program, leading the overall series by 4 wins. This year’s Penn State squad is 10-7-3 on the season, and are currently ranked #20 in the country, 12 spots behind the Spartans. They last saw the ice on January 6, when they took Army down 7-6 in Happy Valley.
In goal, Penn State leans on a pair of netminders, senior Liam Souliere and sophomore Noah Grannan. Grannan’s first career start came in the November opener against MSU in East Lansing, where he gave up 3 goals in regulation, then helped the Nittany Lions secure a shootout victory. Souliere has faced the Spartans 8 times, leading PSU to 2 victories.
In his career against the Spartans, senior defenseman Jimmy Dowd Jr has cashed in with 9 points in his career. The New Jersey native has scored 1 goal and distributed 8 assists. Ryan Kirwan, a junior forward, leads the team in scoring with 12 goals on the season along with an eye-popping 102 shots on the year. Freshman Aiden Fink is just behind Kirwan with 11 goals. Penn State is coached by Guy Gadowski, who has been on the Nittany Lions’ bench through their transition from the ACHA to the NCAA level.
MSU enters this weekend’s series after a post-GLI layoff. In Grand Rapids, the Spartans nearly took home the title against Michigan Tech, but the icers from Houghton took down the Spartans in a shootout to win the GLI championship game. MSU was playing without 4 key players who were representing their countries in the World Junior Championships. For this weekend’s series, Trey Augustine, Isaac Howard, Tommi Männistö, and Maxim Štrbák will all be back in the green and white. In the World Juniors, Howard in particular shone brightly, scoring 2 goals in the gold medal game for Team USA.
While Luca Di Pasquo played admirably in net in the GLI, MSU will be happy to see Trey Augustine return to his spot between the pipes. Augustine is unbeaten in regulation Big Ten games, and he certainly hopes to keep that streak alive this weekend.
When these teams last met, Gavin O’Connell had a weekend to remember with a pair of goals in the series, and Patrick Geary scored a shorthanded goal. MSU’s offensive attack will look to stay as hot as they’ve been for the season, as the Spartans have scored the second most goals in the country - only Denver has scored more.
In a time where so many things lack the green and white shine we may have been expecting, hockey is a fun change of pace. The puck drops Friday night at 7, where hopefully, the tide can turn.