Penn State Seeks to Advance Frozen Four for First Time in Program History
No. 11 Penn State knows exactly what it needs to do on Sunday evening against No. 2 Michigan in the Allentown Regional Final with the chance to advance to the 2023 Frozen Four: Play the Penn State way.
The Nittany Lions played that Penn State brand of hockey in the first meeting of the season between these two teams back in November. The blue and white upset the then-ranked No. 1 Wolverines before making a three-goal comeback in an overtime loss to cap off a 4-point weekend.
In the second meeting of the two Big Ten foes, the talent of Michigan proved to be too much. The maize and blue won game one 7-3 before scoring three unanswered goals, all of which came in a 4-minute stretch in the final period, to defeat the 5-4 in game two.
While every game during the regular season proves important, the stakes of those two series do not compare to those that will be featured inside the PPL Center on Sunday. Every game at this point is win or go home, and both of these two programs proved on Friday that they do not want to go home.
During the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Penn State defeated Michigan Tech 8-0 in the largest shutout victory in NCAA Tournament history. Just hours later on the same sheet of ice, Michigan set its own history, besting Colgate 11-1 behind the most goals ever scored in a regional game in tournament play.
It was eight different scorers getting the job done for the Nittany Lions against Hobey Baker Finalist Blake Pietila starting with a Tyler Paquette wraparound shot just over two minutes into the game.
Of the seven different scorers that followed him, one was the leading goal-scorer and point-getter for the blue and white: Kevin Wall. The senior, who is one-of-two NHL draft picks on the Nittany Lions, has 17 goals and 14 assists for 31 points thus far.
Wall may lead Penn State in points, but his 31 would put him tied for seventh on the Wolverines in points.
Led by Adam Fantilli and Luke Hughes, who have 63 and 47 points, respectively, Michigan owns a high-powered offensive attack that was on display against the Raiders. Fantilli and Hughes were two of eight Wolverines to light the lamp in the first-round game for interim head coach Brandon Naurato.
Rutger McGroarty led the way with a hat trick to propel himself up to a tie for third place with Dylan Duke with 18 goals. McGroarty and Duke trail Hughes and Mackie Samoskevich in goals this season.
Similar to how both teams found success in their offensive zones, they both found dominance on the defensive side of things led by their goaltenders.
For Penn State, even when the wins weren’t showing up, there was one guy who always was: Liam Souliere. The Ontario native recorded his third shutout of the season as he stopped 24-of-24 shots sent his way.
The junior netminder’s second shutout of the season came against Michigan back on November 4. Souliere faced 17 Wolverine shots in that game en route to his second consecutive shutout.
The Hobey Baker nominee and Mike Richter Award watch list honoree has held opponents to just two goals per game over his last seven games, including when he allowed just one while making 55 saves against Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament.
In the opposing crease, will be Erik Portillo, who stopped 20-of-21 in the nightcap of the Allentown Regional’s Friday slate. Portillo was not in between the pipes in the first series against Penn State but certainly heard his name called a lot in that second series.
Portillo made 83 saves while allowing seven goals against the Nittany Lions in January. 51 of those 83 saves came in game one. The Swedish netminder will likely face another onslaught of shots as Penn State leads the nation with 39.5 shots per game.
That “shoot often” mentality is one that plays into the Penn State brand of hockey and is one that the Nittany Lions are likely looking to replicate when the puck drops Sunday at 6:30 pm at the PPL Center in Allentown, Pa.
Even with the stakes higher than ever, head coach Guy Gadowsky believes that his team doesn’t need to change anything.
“We know what we have to do, we’re not going to do anything different, we don’t have to stress about it,” Gadowsky said. “We know what we’re going to do, so tomorrow we’re going to relax, enjoy and get ready to go.”
Justin Ciavolella is a second-year student majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.