Big Ten Hockey Championship Preview: Penn State vs Notre Dame
Throw out the records.throw out the past. The Penn State Nittany Lions and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will play in a winner takes all Big Ten Championship this Saturday, March 23 at 8 p.m.
With the Nittany Lions at No. 16 in the Pairwise and the Fighting Irish No. 15, the winner of this game will advance to the NCAA tournament and the loser’s season will be over.
With so much on the line, let's quickly recap how each of these teams got to this point:
The Fighting Irish have yet to drop a game in the Big Ten Tournament have been stellar defensively. The junior goaltender Cale Morris and his team have only sacrificed one goal in the entire tournament thus far. In fact, the goal was a deflection in front of the net. During the quarterfinal round, Notre Dame made quick work of the Michigan State Spartans. Most recently in the semifinals, the Fighting Irish are coming off a 2-1 overtime victory over the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The game was hard fought by both teams, but Notre Dame’s Michael Graham ended it on the powerplay just 53 seconds into the extra period. Notre Dame will now host the Nittany Lions for the Big Ten title.
Notre Dame’s point leader is actually defenseman Bobby Nardella, but the senior and Hobey Baker candidate has gone pointless in the Big Ten tournament. Look for him and other quiet players such as Cal Burke to have a big impact when it matters most. As said before, Cale Morris is playing as good as it gets. He has saved an outstanding 79 out of his last 80 shots in the tournament thus far.
With that being said, the Penn State Nittany Lions are working to cap off a postseason that some are calling “special." This dynamic, energetic and hungry Nittany Lion team have adapted a mantra that has reverberated Penn State’s season. The slogan, “I think we ain’t done yet” has motivated the Nittany Lions to perform at a high level with their backs against the wall. The Nittany Lions have scored 175 goals this season, the most in four seasons. After losing game one in the quarterfinals, the Nittany Lions have rattled off three straight wins, in emfatic fashion. After extinguishing the Wisconsin Badgers in overtime, the Nittany Lions now have a new victim. They are coming off a monster 5-1 upset victory at Ohio State. If there is any team that can get past Morris and Notre Dame’s defense, it’s this one.
Goaltending of their own has handsomely improved. Peyton Jones, who has inconsistent most of the year, is playing well as of late. For a defense widely regarded as one of the worst in college hockey, Jones has come up with big time saves in big time moments. With his back again the wall, he has stood out. In the game against Ohio State, he stopped Big Ten player of the year candidate Mason Jobst on a breakaway - a save that was remembered.
The “Folkes tail” continues. It might be a play on words, but junior forward Liam Folkes has done nothing but score this postseason. His 10 points in 4 games are the most in Big Ten Tournament history. Folkes and his linemate Alex Limoges have combine for 10 out of the last 15 Nittany Lion goals.
This game is shaping up to be the biggest game in Big Ten Hockey history. Everything is on the line as the best offense meets one of the best defenses.
The winner of the game will be the first team the win two Big Ten Hockey championships.
Kyle Cannillo is a broadcast journalism major at Penn State University. To contact him please email firstname.lastname@example.org.