Men’s Hockey Preview: Penn State vs. Wisconsin
After being swept in Ann Arbor by No. 9 Michigan last weekend, Penn State men’s hockey was locked into the No. 3 seed for the Big Ten tournament in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
At 5 p.m. Thursday, the Nittany Lions (20-12-4, 10-9-1 Big Ten) will face the 6th-seeded Wisconsin Badgers (8-18-8, 3-13-4 Big Ten) coming off of a split series with regular-season champion Minnesota.
Over the last two seasons, the Nittany Lions have dominated the Badgers. Last season featured a season sweep and this year Penn State took the season series 3-1 sweeping the Badgers at home in January, and splitting at the Kohl Center in Madison two weeks ago.
“I think if you were to talk to the boys they would tell you that they feel they could have won all four,” said Badgers head coach Mike Eaves at Monday’s press conference. “Last game we beat them. We know some of their tendencies, and it will be a matter of us executing to a higher level and continuing to have good goaltending and specialty teams, what it always comes down to in the playoffs.”
Three of the four matchups this season ended as one goal games that easily could have gone either way. The latest matchup between the two showed why this week’s playoff game may be a thriller.
It was a 4-3 win for Wisconsin in which the Badgers stormed out to a 4-1 lead after 40 minutes, scoring four unanswered goals after Penn State’s Kenny Brooks tallied the first goal of the game. In response, the Nittany Lions used the 3rd period to come back and outshoot Wisconsin 27-2 in the final frame and score twice and nearly tie the game.
As noted by Badgers coach Eaves, success versus Penn State will come down to goaltending and whether freshman Matt Jurusik can continue to handle Penn State’s high shot totals. Jurusik had a .898 save percentage against the Nittany Lions in three games this season allowing 11 goals on a ridiculous 148 Penn State shots on goal in those three starts. Not bad for a freshman.
For Penn State, the game plan will be cutting down on turnovers in its own zone. Last weekend, for every Nittany Lion turnover, there seemed to be a Wolverine answer. If that turnover did not lead directly to a goal, it led directly to a penalty…which led to a goal.
Guy Gadowski’s up tempo style, which he likens to “the ‘87 Oilers,” means moving the puck up the ice quickly to the forwards and spreading out the defense – Just as Wayne Gretzky did on that team.
Defensemen Luke Juha and Kevin Kerr will need to continue to be smart with the puck and skate themselves out of trouble instead of forcing a pass.
This is the second time in three seasons that Penn State and Wisconsin will meet in the Big Ten tournament. In the 2014 tournament, the Badgers defeated the Nittany Lions 2-1 in the second round on their way to winning the championship.
The winner of Thursday’s game will play Michigan at 5 p.m. Friday.
All tournament games will be televised on the Big Ten Network