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Penn State Hockey: Sunday Night A Good Measuring Stick As Nittany Lions Face No. 1 Denver

by on March 26, 2017 11:00 AM

CINCINNATI, Ohio.

Whatever happens on Sunday night, Penn State hockey will get its best answer yet to a question fans and onlookers have long wondered.

How good is Penn State really?

That isn't to suggest that the success over the past five years has been undeserved, but the often criticized out of conference schedule has been heavy on home games and even heavier on opponents Penn State should beat, and by in large has. It doesn't make the success and value of winning any less legitimate, but it's a little less interesting to watch.

The rational behind that thinking isn't indefensible either, Penn State knows that its Big Ten schedule is essentially a who's who of traditional powers. Adding Notre Dame to the mix next year will do little to ease the difficulty level in conference play. So the out of conference schedule has been an opportunity to simply win and a chance for a growing program to gain some confidence.

And given the fact Penn State sits a win away from the Frozen Four, there doesn't appear to be a compelling reason to change that.

But it still leaves everyone asking how good the Nittany Lions truly are. It took five meetings for Penn State to finally beat Minnesota this season, and conference familiarity often masks a talent gap between two teams. You play anyone five times in a year and sooner or later the games get closer and closer. And they did.

Beyond that Penn State has for the most part, played very few of college hockey's best outside of the Big Ten. Meetings against Notre Dame, Union and UMass-Lowell are about as close as the Nittany Lions have gotten over the years.

On Sunday night that will change.

Denver is by every measure the best team in college hockey and arguably the deepest most balanced team Penn State has ever faced. The No. 1 overall seed with a resume to back it up, if there is a team that is going to set the bar for Penn State, it's Denver.

Fortunately for the Nittany Lions there is no time like the present to test the waters among the nation's elite. Penn State enters Sunday night with confidence at an all-time high following a 10-3 massacre of Union while Denver comes in following its own impressive 5-2 victory over Michigan Tech earlier in the day.

On the line, a trip to the Frozen Four, perhaps less specifically, an opportunity to emphatically state that Penn State's rise hasn't been the result of anything other than good hockey.

Whatever the case, Penn State fans will get a chance to see what happens when the Nittany Lions play against the best of the best. 

And given the results of the past few weeks, Sunday night is anything but a forgone conclusion.

so is Penn a State good? The results speak for themselves, but there is plenty of value in Sunday night'a result. 



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