Series Grades: Men’s Hockey vs. Notre Dame
The No. 11 Penn State Nittany Lions took on the No. 22 Notre Dame Fighting Irish this past weekend. This series has been circled on the calendar since the start of the season. With all the hype of the “White Rush” and a rematch of last year’s Big Ten championship on the mind, this series was a memorable one for fans and players. Unfortunately for Penn State, the Nittany Lions lost both of its games in dramatic fashion. Though the first game counts as a tie because it went into a shootout, Penn State needed all the points that it could get as the season comes to a close. Late in Game 1, the Fighting Irish tied the game at three with just under two minutes to play in the game, and they eventually won in a seven-round shootout.
In Game 2, Penn State went down 2-0 early in the game then eventually climbed back to tie it up. That wouldn’t last long, as Notre Dame took the lead with exactly five minutes left in the game, eventually taking it 4-2 on an empty-netter. Let’s hand out grades for each of Penn State’s units for this series.
Penn State’s offense was very inconsistent in this series. Passes were either tape-to-tape or extremely inaccurate. Notre Dame did a really good job of forcing Penn State players wide and into the boards. It was very difficult for the Nittany Lions to get any shot past goaltender Cale Morris. Penn State scored most of its goals from screens in front of Morris. The Nittany Lions will need to continue to get net-front traffic against Tommy Nappier of Ohio State next weekend.
Penn State also had a tough time getting into the offensive zone cleanly, as the Notre Dame defense often pinched at the blue line, forcing Penn State to dump the puck in.
Penn State’s power play struggled significantly, going 0-for-6 in this series. The Nittany Lions even allowed a shorthanded goal. They did a good job of cycling the puck and screening Morris, but they couldn’t capitalize on any opportunities.
Captain Brandon Biro returned to the lineup on Saturday, which added some much-needed speed to the roster. Biro has 18 points in 19 games this season, and although he didn’t appear on the scoresheet this weekend, his presence on the ice was noticeable every time he stepped on the ice.
The defense has been a bit of a problem this season for Penn State. Junior defenseman Clayton Phillips missed his third consecutive game on Saturday after falling awkwardly against Michigan State. Though defensive zone coverage was a little better in this series, Notre Dame was constantly moving in its offensive zone, which opened up more shooting lanes. It felt like Notre Dame had the puck on a string because Penn State couldn’t get the puck out of the zone when needed.
On the plus side, Penn State goaltender Peyton Jones was right on top of every dangerous chance that the Irish had, stopping 59 of 66 shots in this series.
Head coach Guy Gadowsky did a better job of making sure his team stayed disciplined. Penn State only took one penalty in Game 1. But with all the momentum on Penn State’s side and the Roar Zone as loud as ever and dressed in white, Penn State defenseman Alex Stevens took a “holding the stick” penalty which put the Nittany Lions on their heels.
“We weren’t mentally prepared for a great game, we were not mentally prepared to compete,” Gadowsky said in a postgame interview with gopsusports.com on Saturday. “The other team that we faced had other plans, and we did not match their mental toughness at the start, and we paid for it.”
Line changes were not crisp. When Penn State players made their switches, Notre Dame was always able to immediately move the puck up the ice, creating odd-man rushes.
Penn State faces the Ohio State Buckeyes next week. Ohio State is now tied for first in the Big Ten with 29 points.
Jacob Cheris is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.