Playoff Hockey: Do-or-Die for Penn State in Rematch of Notre Dame
There is nothing like playoff hockey. The wild regular season has come to a close, and the time has come for Penn State to play with its back against the wall.
The fifth-seeded Nittany Lions (9-11-0) will see a familiar foe in round one of the Big Ten Tournament: the fourth-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish (14-12-2). Just one week ago, the Irish, rather effortlessly, swept the Nittany Lions, scoring 12 goals in just two games.
“It was obviously a real tough weekend,” Penn State senior captain Alex Limoges said. “But we’re back, we’re training, and we’re battling hard in practice. I think right now a lot of the guys are excited for another chance.”
Penn State trails the all-time series between the two programs 6-13-3. The Nittany Lions have just a single win in the last seven games they have played against Notre Dame. In both 2018 and 2019, the Fighting Irish were the ones to knock Penn State out of the Big Ten tournament.
Despite scoring the first goal in each game last weekend, Penn State was outmatched for the majority of the series. An Irish top line composed of point leaders Alex Steeves, Graham Slaggert and younger brother Landon Slaggert dominated the Nittany Lions all weekend long.
Penn State technically outshot the Irish in both games, but chances were rather low quality. Mason Snell had his first two of his season in Game 1, while Kevin Wall and Limoges each tallied assists on the weekend.
“This is do or die,” Limoges said. “This is playoff hockey. This is fun hockey and this what everyone has been waiting for.”
Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson knows how to get the most out of his group when it matters. Jackson’s Irish won the Big Ten tournament title in 2018 and 2019. In 16 seasons, Jackson has impressively led the Irish to 10 NCAA tournament appearances, including to the Frozen Four on four separate occasions.
Penn State has had quite the roller coaster season. With the loss of key players from last year’s Big Ten regular season champions team, it took the Nittany Lions some time to find their groove, losing their first five in the 2020-21 campaign.
Then things changed after they put up nine goals on now-No. 6 Michigan on Dec. 3. With a handful of overtime victories, Penn State went 9-3-0 in a 12-game stretch to get its season back to .500.
But all momentum was halted dead in its tracks when a well-documented COVID-19 outbreak saw a program pause that lasted 34 days, canceling four series.
“It was tough to jump back in, especially after a month of not playing,” Limoges said. “I think right now the focus is recovery.”
This weekend is desperation vs. concentration. The winner will advance to take on No. 1 seed Wisconsin. Puck drop is scheduled for noon Sunday at Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Indiana.
You can listen to the game right here on psucommradio.com.
Kyle Cannillo is a journalism major at Penn State. To contact him, please email email@example.com.