When the Penn State Nittany Lions decided to make the jump to Division-I men’s college hockey, it was rumored that Big Ten hockey was on its way. Now, the Nittany Lions will host their first home conference series this Sunday and Monday against the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Minnesota enters the three-day weekend series as the No. 1 ranked team in the nation and are a heavy favorite against the juvenile Nittany Lions program. Penn State sits at just 4-10-1 on the season and are looking to show they belong in the Big Ten.
Head coach Don Lucia returns to the team for his first full series of games since coaching Team U.S.A. in the World Junior Championships.
As the top team in the nation, Minnesota should not overlook Penn State as the Hockey City Classic sits on the horizon. Four conference points are on the line and with the sweep that Wisconsin earned over Michigan, the Gophers are in position to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the conference.
The Nittany Lions are led in scoring by a Minnesota native on the blueline. Redshirt sophomore Eric Scheid has 13 points on the season in his first year in Happy Valley after transferring from Alaska-Anchorage. The Blaine native plays lock-down defense and has doubled his point production from two seasons ago with the Seawolves.
Behind Scheid, the Nittany Lions are still trying to find a forward or two that can help lead them offensively. With no other players registering double-digit points on the year, the Nittany Lions are going to need to find some scoring fast to help protect them from their lackluster play in the nets.
Goaltenders Eamon McAdam and Matthew Skoff have split time for Penn State and have allowed 3.93 goals per game on the season — putting them No. 55 out of 59 teams in the country in team defense.
The Nittany Lions will host Minnesota at the new Pegula Ice Arena, that opened last September. Helping to welcome the Maroon and Gold to #HockeyValley is Minnesota transfer Max Gardiner out of Minnetonka. The former Skipper left the Gophers after his freshman season after seeing little playing time. He has still not produced at the level scouts thought the big 6-foot-3 forward would have.
Fellow Skipper Nate Jensen is also on the roster to round out the local flavor on the men’s team. Jensen is also a transfer — he left Mercyhurst after one season.
It’s obvious that the bump by the Nittany Lions up to D-I and the Big Ten was a huge step forward as they’re getting better players to transfer in for the exposure the league brings nationally.
Sunday night’s game is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT and can be found on Gopher All-Access. The same can be said for the series finale on Monday, but TV coverage is being provided by the Big Ten Network.
The Gophers should have little trouble getting past Penn State and will likely use the series as a way to get some fresh faces in the lineup, including goalie Michael Shibrowski.
Anything less than a sweep in Pennsylvania will go down as a failure for the top team in the country in the early stages of 2014.