Men’s Hockey Preview: Michigan
Alissa Devine, George Stockburger and Eric Ohlson break down this weekend's series between Penn State and Michigan.
After a convincing sweep at home against Arizona State last weekend, Penn State’s men’s hockey team is now the No. 7 ranked team in the nation and looking forward to this week’s series against the 20th ranked Michigan Wolverines to finally begin Big Ten play.
Penn State came into this season with a lot of exciting young talent, and they have exceeded expectations thus far. The Nittany Lions are currently 11-1-1, with their loss coming to an excellent St. Lawrence team earlier in the year.
Michigan, on the other hand, came into the season with high expectations. Many labeled the Wolverines as the team that would challenge Minnesota, which has dominated the conference the past few years, for the Big Ten title.
Michigan has underwhelmed so far, however, dropping games to four unranked opponents already. They did split in their home series against Boston U, one of the best teams in college hockey. Michigan has the tools to be a competitive team, and they will be looking to make a statement on the road in Happy Valley.
Penn State’s defense has been terrific, which was an area they wanted to improve on this season. The Lions are currently ranked third in goals allowed this season. The offense, yet again, is producing at a high level with an abundance of talent and depth up front. The Nittany Lions boast the highest scoring offense in the country, averaging 4.77 goals per game.
Penn State’s goaltender, Peyton Jones, has excelled in net this year. Jones has a save percentage of .912 with 227 saves. Just a freshman, Jones has shown remarkable poise and leadership that is uncommon for a player of his age.
In goal for Michigan will be a platoon of Hayden Lavigne and Jack LaFontaine, who have split time this season. Both have a save percentage over .900, but the Wolverines haven’t chosen one as the permanent starter.
On the attacking side of the ice for the Nittany Lions is the freshman standout Denis Smirnov, with nine goals and 13 assists this season. He has been nearly unstoppable, making contributions in a variety of ways. Smirnov is 4th in the nation in points scored and will pose a difficult matchup for Michigan defensively.
Andrew Sturtz, Nate Sucese, Trevor Hamilton, and David Goodwin all have also been valuable contributors to a potent Penn State offense.
Michigan’s best offensive weapon has been Will Lockwood, with six goals and four assists on the season. Jake Slaker and Sam Piazza have also recorded eight points each for the Wolverines.
Penn State has been superior in most statistical categories, but one similarity between these two squads is their ability to kill penalties. Michigan and Penn State both rank first and second nationally in that category, respectively.
Penn State may be in better shape as far as young talent is concerned, but it will be interesting to see how their youth will match up against the experience of this Michigan team.
While the Wolverines haven’t been impressive thus far, they are likely to improve as the season progresses. Penn State has been elite in almost every aspect of the game to this point, but this series will be the biggest test for many of their young players.
Both teams are well-coached and will be ready to go. It should be quite an exciting series to watch. It will be a hard-fought, physical couple of games.
Will Desautelle is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.