‘We’re feeling good’: Penn State men’s hockey confident ahead of series with number one Minnesota
If you thought last week was the only time Penn State men’s hockey would face the No. 1 team in the nation, think again. The No. 8-ranked Nittany Lions are gearing up for a showdown against No. 1 Minnesota, this time in the belly of the beast in Minneapolis at 3M Arena in Mariucci on Nov. 10-11.
After a win and an overtime loss to the No. 1 ranked Wolverines, the Nittany Lions currently sit in first place in the Big Ten. This series will determine first place, as the Golden Gophers trail Penn State by a single point in the conference.
It will no doubt be a tough series, and Minnesota’s roster is arguably even better than Michigan’s. Jimmy Snuggerud, Matthew Knies and Jackson LaCombe each rank in the top 10 for most goals, assists and points in the Big Ten. Meanwhile, Justen Close has established himself as one of the best goaltenders in the conference.
However, it would be very naive to believe that Minnesota will win this series easily. In fact, Penn State is certainly capable of playing a competitive series, and its players are feeling confident and excited heading into the game.
“We feel good,” said forward Ashton Calder. “We know we can play with these great teams no matter what.”
Calder is right, and the numbers back it up. Penn State currently has the second most goals (43), assists (73) and points (116) in the conference.
Penn State’s defense is even better, holding opponents to an average of two goals per game. Meanwhile, he also has the second-highest save percentage (.925) in the Big Ten.
Much of the Nittany Lions’ on-ice and cinematic preparation for the series came from experience. Many players on Penn State’s roster have played Minnesota enough times to have a general understanding of the Gophers’ style of play.
“They love owning the puck. They love to use their speed,” striker Christian Sarlo said.
Minnesota is playing with speed, but Sarlo understands what it will take to stop the Gophers.
“The most important thing for us will be to finish the plays earlier, especially when they get the puck in our zone. Take it out as fast as you can because they’ll possess it for 40 seconds to a minute – as long as they can until you get hit and try to tire yourself out,” Sarlo said.
Calder, who played in Minnesota during his time at North Dakota, also has an idea of what to expect in this series, even as a transfer to the program.
“I watched them a lot,” Calder said. “I just know how they play. It is a fast and competent team.
Although Minnesota is a top team, defenseman and captain Paul DeNaples was adamant that his team isn’t preparing for Minnesota any differently than other opponents.
“We don’t really prepare differently because our philosophy is that we play our game the right way,” DeNaples said. “We don’t have to change things for someone else.”
Head coach Guy Gadowsky echoed DeNaples in his confidence that the Nittany Lions “don’t focus as much on the other team” as on themselves.
Penn State’s confident and unflappable spirit heading into this series is one the team has had all season. The Nittany Lions have proven to be experienced and capable, which should make for a very competitive series on Thursday and Friday.
Both games in the series will begin at 8 p.m. on November 10 and 11, respectively.