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Penn State Hockey: Games Only Get Bigger As Nittany Lions Head to Columbus

by on February 27, 2015 2:00 PM

There isn't really an end goal for Penn State hockey right now.

Sure, winning is a plus, and in a perfect world this season would end with an NCAA tournament bid, but for Guy Gadowsky and his players it's just one game at a time. Whatever happens next is a cherry on top. As long as the team is getting better, that's the most important part.

This hyper process oriented focus sounds nice on paper, but everyone knows what these games mean in the bigger picture. With six regular season contests remaining, Penn State sits right in the thick of the Big Ten title race. Gadowsky doesn't like to admit it, his players don't talk much about it, but they know. They all know.

More importantly Penn State sits well within reach of a first round bye in the Big Ten tournament. A tournament that puts the Nittany Lions just two wins from an automatic bid into the NCAA championship conversation. The schedules may not favor Penn State in these final six games for the regular season title, but a shot at a bye is very real.

Heading into Friday night's game with Ohio State, Penn State is five points out of first place. Minnesota playing on Thursday night pushed the Gophers an additional three points ahead of the pack, a games played advantage that will even out by the end of the weekend.

The Buckeyes on the other hand are well out of the conversation, a 4-10 conference record paring them with Wisconsin on the outside looking in. 

It's tempting to assume those six points for the taking are Penn State's already, but Ohio State won't be an easy out on the road. The Nittany Lions split the series back at Pegula Ice Arena and the Buckeyes stealing a win from rival Michigan just a week earlier. That makes them far more dangerous than their record might indicate.

The result, a series that is far from decided. It might be easy to assume that bad records equal easy wins, but so frequently that mindset finds the "better" team walking home with a loss.

So Friday night's 6:30 contest in Columbus (On the Big Ten Network) isn't to be overlooked in an ever tightening Big Ten title race. In fact, these are the kinds of games for a fledgling program that prove it can already take care of business when it has to. In a convoluted way, winning big games is more important to Penn State to prove that it can, than what winning a big game means on paper to the rest of the conference.

And Gadowsky knows that, his players know it. They may not admit it, but these games are bigger than just the process of building a program. Penn State is in a position just three years into Division I play where games already mean the chance to bring home some hardware.

That's not a bad position to be in.

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Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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