With Penn State hockey set to face Wisconsin on Thursday and Friday night, the Nittany Lions will not only have a chance to make it five-straight wins at home, but also a chance to beat Cole Caufield, the Badgers’ explosive and extremely talented forward.
On paper, if Caufield isn’t the best player in college hockey in terms of talent and returning statistics, he’s certainly in the Top 5. Caufield was selected No. 15 overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and has given Big Ten teams fits ever since.
If Caufield isn’t the best player Penn State has faced this season that honor would go to Michigan defenseman Owen Power who has a not so outside shot at going No. 1 overall in the 2021 Entry Draft.
All of this brings up a much more subjective question: who are the 10 best players Penn State hockey has faced at Pegula Ice Arena?
It’s easy to forget some names, impossible to agree on anything, and hard to parse between 10 greats, but here’s a good first attempt.
Johnny Hockey is the easy choice at No. 1 as a future NHL star and one of the best college hockey players of all-time. Penn State faced Gaudreau twice in 2014 but only once at Pegula [the other game in Pittsburgh] with Boston College ranked No. 2 in the nation. The Nittany Lions fell 3-2, getting that second goal inside of seven minutes to play. Gaudreau scored once in the game to put his name on the books forever.
The defending Vezina Trophy winner – an award given to the best goaltender in the NHL – Penn State got to face a much younger Hellebuyck in 2015 as the Nittany Lions hosted UMass-Lowell. Hellebuyck would make 37 saves in the one victory, the first home shutout loss in program history for the Nittany Lions. A little bit of trivia for your next party.
The future Philadelphia Flyer was one of the most talented college hockey players and one of the most impressive defesnmen to come out of the college ranks in years. Facing Penn State at Pegula in 2013, the Ghost Bear would score twice in a 5-4 win over the Nittany Lions. The Dutchmen would go on to win a national title that year and Penn State would get its revenge a few seasons later, beating Union for its first-ever NCAA Tournament win.
Former New York Ranger turned Philadelphia Flyer, Hayes played alongside the No. 1 spot on this list, scoring twice during Boston College’s only trip to Happy Valley. Hayes may not have had the clout of his teammate, but both are having very solid NHL careers.
Kyle Connor (JT Compher/Tyler Motte)
Michigan’s CCM line is without a doubt one of the best lines in the history of college hockey and while Kyle Connor is the marquee name, all three find themselves in the NHL. It is rarity that a single line can win a game all on its own, but there was no stopping the CCM line and it will go down in history accordingly.
Maybe not the most exciting NHL career, but the Michigan product was certainly talented and problematic for the young Penn State program early in its inception. He currently finds himself playing in Columbus, fitting for a Michigan man.
A current Detroit Red Wing, Larkin was another quality Michigan product to come out of that storied program. That said Penn State did get on the better of Larkin on a few occasions including a 2015 home sweep at Pegula. Larkin would score once in the series before heading back to Ann Arbor.
This former Ohio State Buckeye holds the honor of recording the first hat trick in Big Ten history, scoring 22 goals overall in 2015 and racking up 46 total points en route to the AHL and eventually a long and solid career in the NHL.
- Cale Morris – the Notre Dame goalie was almost a Nittany Lion and won more than a few games for the Irish.
- Mason Jobst – Ohio State and Jobst were always ready to play
- Casey Mittelstadt – Minnesota is never short on talent and neither was Mittelstadt
- Rem Pitlick – See above note about Minnesota
- Patrick Khodorenko – One man scoring machine for Michigan State