Penn State men’s hockey vs Michigan preview

Story posted November 4, 2022 in CommRadio, Sports by Justin Ciavolella

It takes beating the best to be the best.

No. 13 Penn State has the opportunity to beat the best when its hosts No. 1 Michigan this weekend.

The Nittany Lions started conference play with a familiar sight of strong goaltending and an offensive outburst in a two-game series sweep over Wisconsin to improve upon the best start in program history at 8-0-0.

Liam Souliere, who has been battling an undisclosed injury since the second game of the season, was his best self against the Badgers. The junior netminder stopped 63-of-64 shots, including 32-of-32 on Saturday night for his first career shutout en route to being named Big Ten Second Star of the Week.

Similar to the team, the Ontario native is near the top of the nation with his performance this season. Souliere ranks fourth in the nation with a .945 save percentage and is tied-fifth nationally with a 1.5 goals per game average, both of which lead the Big Ten.

“I think that it was really nice to see the team defense that we played, but there were times where we did make mistakes and he showed up big,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “It’s not just the numbers, it's the timely goaltending that I think was really important for him, important for us this weekend.”

As for the offense that Souliere will be facing, it is ranked first in the country. Michigan is averaging 5.25 goals per game even after losing six of its top seven scorers from last season.

Despite four of those six scorers playing in the NHL and the other two in the AHL, Michigan returns 2021 first round NHL Draft picks in Luke Hughes and Mackie Samoskevich, and added two freshman 2022 first round picks in Frank Nazar, who has yet to appear due to injury, and Rutger McGroarty.

Hughes was named Big Ten First Star of the Week after contributing three assists and a game-winning goal in Michigan’s sweep over No. 17 Western Michigan.

Yet, even with all the NHL draft picks on the roster, Adam Fantilli is leading the team, and the nation, with 18 points, while pacing the Big Ten with eight goals. The freshman is projected to be taken near the top of the 2023 NHL Draft adding to the rich history of maize and blue hockey.

Penn State recognizes the talent of the Wolverines after losing four games against Michigan last season. Senior Connor McMenamin says Penn State is focusing more on their play.

“We know the game they’re going to bring,” McMenamin said. “We’re just making sure this week we’re preparing to bring ours.

That Michigan offense put up 11 goals against Western Michigan, but struggled to put away the games with the goaltending of Erik Portillo, who allowed nine goals over the course of the home-and-home series.

Portillo has a 2.74 goals-against average and .905 save percentage, which are both lower marks than last season. The fifth-year goaltender’s task gets no easier facing the nation’s second best offense.

Led by a line of Kevin Wall, Ryan Kirwan and Ture Linden that has combined for 12 goals, the blue and white offense is averaging 4.62 goals per game.

It was not that top-producing line that garnered the most praise from coach Gadwosky for its performance.

“We don’t have a fourth line, we don’t really have a first line. The way we do things, we try very hard to make sure that we have four lines that are productive,” Gadowsky said. “And that line, Lamppa’s line, this weekend actually was the best line.”

Xander Lamppa recorded one goal and two assists while centering a line with Christian Sarlo and a rotation of Tyler Paquette and Alex Servagno on the wings.

While the five-on-five play will provide fireworks, the game within the game will come on special teams.

Michigan converted on 14-of-44 power play opportunities thus far for a conference leading mark of 31.8%, which ranks fifth in the nation. The Wolverines converted on five-of-nine man advantages against Western Michigan, all five of which came in Game 2.

As for the Nittany Lions penalty kill, it has been successful on 19-of-25 opportunities after going six-for-six against Wisconsin.

On the other end of the ice, the blue and white have struggled to convert on power play opportunities seeing success on 4-of-22 chances. Ashton Calder’s power play goal in Game 2 versus Wisconsin was the first of that variety since the season-opening series.

“It hasn’t been great, but there’s been aspects of it that we really liked,” Gadowsky said. “In terms of process, we want to see opportunities…It’s not just whether you score or not, it’s whether you enhance our identity.”

Something will have to break this weekend as the Wolverines have yielded nine power play goals to their opponents, as they draw an average of 6.63 penalties per contest.

Penn State and Michigan will start on the five-on-five when puck is dropped at 8 p.m. on Friday and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday innside of Pegula Ice Arena. Penn State will be ready for that puck drop.

“This team in general this year has a lot better culture and everyones excited for how good we are,” Lamppa said.

“We’re excited to show everyone else we can beat these guys, especially this weekend.”

Justin Ciavolella is a second-year student majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email