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Penn State Hockey: Nittany Lions Underdogs Saturday, But A Win Would Slowly Change That

by on March 23, 2018 4:20 PM

ALLENTOWN, Pa.

A handful of Penn State hockey players stood in the tunnel of PPL Arena a half hour or so before their practice simply watching Denver players skate around the ice.

It's hard not to marvel at the Pioneers, set to embark on their 11th straight NCAA Tournament journey, the longest current streak in the sport, and looking to defend their national title. If their on ice skill is matched by anything, it's the ability of the program to do it time and time again, all while competing in one of (if not the) thought conference in college hockey.

A Nittany Lion upset wouldn't be unheard of. The crowd will be pulling for Penn State, and this particular Denver team hasn't been without its own bumps in the road, let alone the simple fact these Nittany Lions aren't half bad themselves.

Nevertheless, it won't be easy.

And even if Penn State manages to knock off the reigning champs, Denver will still find itself enjoying the relative comforts of being an established program. The Nittany Lions still working to sustain it's continued success in the first six years of existence.

So what's the key? 

"That's a hard question to answer because I think there are a lot of things that go into it," Denver coach Jim Montgomery said on Friday. "I think that we've always been able to get better throughout the year. This year is no different and this year probably is the most challenging to get better because expectations early and we were a really young team and we had to grow. But we've become tougher and that was where we needed to grow the most. Mentally and physically."

It's hard to deny there is a level of David and Goliath heading into Saturday night's meeting between these two teams. Denver is the easy pick, but Penn State has made a living in a few short years of proving people wrong time and time again.

That doesn't mean things will stay that way though. And while there is still work left to be done for Penn State and Denver to ever really be compared in terms of the elite levels of college hockey, it doesn't mean that day isn't that far away.

"It's really hard," Montgomery said of Penn State making it to the tournament in back-to-back years. "But Guy Gadowsky is a great coach, and his staff is really good. And it's not a surprise to me, having coached against him when I was an assistant at RPI while he was at Princeton, the success he had at Princeton, you knew that it was only going to be a matter of time before Penn State became a perennial powerhouse."

And a win on Saturday night would go along way towards becoming just that.



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