Series Preview: Penn State vs. Michigan State
As the calendar changes from 2020 to 2021, Penn State (3-5) will go full speed into the second half of its schedule with a two-game series in East Lansing against Michigan State (3-3-2) to kick off the new year.
“I think we’re hungry to get back to competing and to continue to get better,” head coach Guy Gadowsky said.
The Nittany Lions ended the first part of the season winning three straight against Michigan and Arizona State. But the Spartans are always a pesky blue-collar team that gives Penn State a run for its money.
Senior captain Alex Limoges has found his stride in the past few games, as he now leads the team in points with nine, registering five goals and four assists.
Kevin Wall, Connor MacEachern, Tim Doherty and Aarne Talvitie have also played rather well for Guy Gadowsky’s team.
MacEachern scored a game-winner in overtime in Game 1 against Arizona State.
Talvitie’s strong skating and wicked wristers were on full display against the Wolverines and Sun Devils before the break, as he scored all three of his goals during that span.
Connor McMenamin also added an overtime winner in a 5-4 Game 2 win against Arizona State to send Penn State into the break on a high note after the Nittany Lions trailed 4-1 in the first period.
Freshman defenseman Jimmy Dowd Jr. has had himself a solid start to the 2020-21 campaign, tallying a goal and four assists while also being disruptive for opposing offenses, due in part to his quick decision-making and blistering speed.
In all likelihood, both goalies, Oskar Autio and Liam Soulière, will get action in the road series, as neither one has really separated himself as the clear No. 1 starter.
Autio holds a save percentage of .864 alongside a goals-against-average of 3.80, whereas Soulière sits at .860 on the dot for save percentage and 4.36 for a goals-against average.
Danton Cole’s Michigan State team always seems to match up well with Penn State, and this battle will likely be no different.
The once dangerous KHL line featuring Patrick Khodorenko, Taro Hirose and Mitchell Lewandowski is now a distant memory, as Hirose left East Lansing two years ago and Khodorenko departed last year.
Lewandowski, however, is still someone that should be accounted for, as he has five points with two goals and three assists.
The most prolific offensive weapon for Michigan State is a transfer portal gem in former Bemidji State Beaver Charlie Combs.
Combs has six points in eight games and seems to have an extra pep in his step after a change of scenery from northern Minnesota to Michigan.
While at Bemidji, Combs scored 59 points in three seasons with 36 of them being goals.
On defense, the Spartans are masters at blocking shots and do so at a high clip.
In fact, Michigan State averages 14.38 blocked shots per game and have blocked 10-plus shots in seven of its eight games this year, including 24 in a 4-3 win at Notre Dame on Dec. 20.
Captain Dennis Cesana, Cole Krygier, Christian Krygier and Tommy Miller are the ringleaders of that Michigan State defense and play with a grinder mentality of putting their bodies on the line every time they step onto the ice.
Junior netminder Drew DeRidder had himself a strong first half with a 3-3-2 record, a save percentage of .940 and a goals-against average of 1.96.
The Nittany Lions and Spartans have been dead even over the past 10 meetings, with a 5-5 record for both sides. Expect more of the same this time around.
Penn State gets pucks to the net and Michigan State stops pucks from getting to the net. MSU blocked 31 shots in a 2-0 win at Pegula Ice Arena last season, and they will likely take the same approach again.
Penn State will have to be aggressive on the forecheck, cycle the puck a lot and get some greasy goals in order to come out on top.
Game 1: Michigan State 3, Penn State 2
Game 2: Penn State 4, Michigan State 3
Christopher Hess is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.