Hockey Preview: Princeton
Brian McLaughlin, Marty Kassalen and Travis Sutton preview this weekend's matchup against the Princeton Tigers.
Last week the Penn State men’s hockey team achieved the program’s first-ever No. 1 national ranking, receiving 30 first-place votes in the latest USCHO poll. However, the prospect of maintaining that status for the remainder of the year seemed somewhat far-fetched given their laborious remaining schedule.
Unfortunately, after just one week of being heralded as the top team in college hockey, the Nittany Lions are now back down to No. 4 following Ohio State’s sweep last weekend. It appeared the Lions’ youth finally caught up to them, and in their biggest test of the season so far, they were a step behind the Buckeyes all series.
On the bright side, there is still a lot of hockey to be played this season, and Penn State still remains one of the elite teams in the country. The Lions are still the highest scoring team in the NCAA and the 10th ranked defensive team as well.
Penn State will enter a brief hiatus from conference play, as they will take on Princeton this Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia for an exciting matchup against Guy Gadowsky’s former team.
Princeton is only a mediocre team on paper, but they have been competitive in many of their games against quality opponents. Their most impressive outings this season came in a sweep against Quinnipiac, traditionally one of the premier programs in the nation.
The starting goaltenders for both teams have been solid thus far. Peyton Jones for Penn State is having a terrific freshman season even though he had his difficulties against Ohio State. Jones is still saving over 90% of opponents’ shots and allowing only 2.3 goals per contest. Saturday will be an opportunity for him to recoup some confidence against a far less potent Princeton front line. Colton Phinney for the Tigers has an 89.2% save rate, and he is allowing 3.64 goals per contest.
Trevor Hamilton and Kevin Kerr have both been superb defensemen for Penn State, compiling 51 and 39 blocks, respectively. Hamilton is also third on the team in assists with 16, while Kerr has recorded 10 of his own. Erik Autio is another guy who’s played well for the Lions, contributing 11 points and 30 blocks. Then there’s junior Vince Pedrie, who’s always been known for his offense, having another excellent season with 19 points.
Freshman standout Denis Smirnov has led the way all year up front with 11 goals and 18 assists this season, which is good for 16th nationally in total points. Smirnov was shut down against Ohio State and has started to cool off a bit, but he’s a talented young player capable of taking over any given game. Sophomore Andrew Sturtz is also a dangerous offensive player, leading the team with 15 goals, which is ninth nationally.
David Goodwin is another player to watch. The senior captain is an outstanding leader and playmaker with 18 assists on the year. Sophomore Chase Berger is playing as well as anyone on the Lions recently with 10 goals and 11 assists on the season.
The Lions also have a plethora of freshmen in Brandon Biro, Nate Sucese, Nikita Pavlychev, Liam Folkes, and Brett Murray, all talented young players that have made immediate impacts.
The Tigers, on the other hand, do not have a lot of offensive firepower, which has made it difficult to score at times. Their best player has been Max Véronneau, who leads the team with 18 points. He’s also their leading goal scorer, but he has only netted the puck seven times this season.
Ryan Kuffner and Jackson Cressey are two other players to watch for Princeton. Both have tallied 12 points this season. The Tigers’ only other double-digit point scorer is David Hallisey with 10.
Princeton will play a physical game and be ready to go, but it’s obvious that Penn State is the clear favorite in this matchup. The Tigers have played some tough games, but the Lions are probably the fastest and most skilled they’ve faced to date. Especially after a disappointing series against Ohio State, it seems irresolute to think that Penn State won’t come out with a chip on its shoulder. The Lions will come out and impose their will immediately and get back on track on their way to a big win in the City of Brotherly Love.
Will Desautelle is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
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