Penn State Hockey: Nittany Lions Close Out Regular Season Against Ohio State This Weekend
(1) Florida State, (2) Auburn, (3) Michigan State, (5) Missouri, (8) Clemson, (12) Ohio State, and (15) Louisville.
If Penn State football played the same strength of schedule as Penn State hockey, those seven teams listed above would represent perhaps the toughest schedule ever created. Certainly the difference between No.1 and No. 15 may be different between hockey and football, but the point remains the same; the Nittany Lions haven't backed down from a challenge in their first full season of Division I hockey.
Entering the last regular season series of the year, Penn State will skate into the game with a 6-24-2 record that is hardly an indication of how hard the Nittany Lions have played over the past several months and how much they have improved.
"We didn't come into the season feeling like we had a game that could compete with anyone," Coach Guy Gadowsky said earlier this week. "But we feel like we're almost there now. When we execute our game and play with great energy that we can play with anybody right now. And I think we've proved that. We feel like that when we play with our game that we have a game that can surprise a lot of people."
In total, Penn State has played in 13 games decided by a single goal and have tied games twice. In a game where a single mistake can cost you the game, it's a testament to the Nittany Lions' ability to keep it close against the top teams in the nation. Penn State has been in its fair share of one-sided games, but the overwhelming odds are in the favor of the Nittany Lion faithful getting their money's worth on any give night.
As Penn State gets set to take on Ohio State this weekend for the final home series of the year, one final victory would make for a fitting end to a season that has seen a little bit of everything -- from an upset victory over No. 10 Michigan to a loss in the final 20 seconds of overtime to Wisconsin.
While the Buckeyes are not ranked, they do boast one of the nation's top scorers in Ryan Dzingel. Dzingel will give the Nittany Lions all they can handle and more both Friday and Saturday night. Penn State fell to the Buckeyes by 5-1 and 5-2 scores during a two game series in Columbus Jan. 31-Feb. 1. In the second game the Nittany Lions held a 2-0 lead before giving up 5 straight to a surging Buckeye team.
As with any team, especially one still growing into its own shoes, consistency is key. One good period will rarely win you a game and will never take you as far as you'd like to go as a program. While the Buckeyes may not be the best team to take the ice at Pegula Ice Arena, they are yet another test for a Penn State team still learning how to put a high level product on the ice every single night.
"You see it in streaks where we play extremely well," Gadowksy said. "But you haven't seen us play very many games where we've had three really solid periods. So the goal really is to get more consistant and I think that really is a mental toughness issue."
The good news for Gadowksy and his staff? Penn State underclassmen have accounted for nearly 77-percent of the team's offense. So there is no reason to think Penn State hockey's upward trajectory will stop any time soon.