Nittany Lions to face Michigan in first round of Big Ten Tournament

Story posted March 20, 2014 in Sports, CommRadio by Ross Insana

Even though collegiate hockey teams do not get to hand-pick the opponent that gives them their best chance to advance in their league playoffs, last-seeded Penn State probably drew the team they wanted to match up against in the first round.

The Nittany Lions (7-25-2, 3-16-1) will take on the No. 12 Michigan Wolverines (18-12-4, 10-8-2) at the Xcel Energy Center, the home of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, in the opening round of the inaugural Big Ten Tournament on Thursday afternoon. The Big Ten is the only playoff out of the six collegiate hockey postseason tournaments that is a single-elimination throughout.

The two teams split their four game regular season series, with two games at Pegula Ice Arena and two at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor. The Nittany Lions and Wolverines took a game apiece in each of the two-game slates.

Head coach Guy Gadowsky does not necessarily believe that his team’s success against Michigan helps out entirely, but how hard they have worked and their ability to learn the team’s objectives is more important to him.

“I don’t know if it does,” said Gadowsky. “But I think it does really helps by saying we are greatly improved and our team knows it. It’s not necessarily success against one team but it’s our overall improvement that gives our guys confidence.”

Most notably, Penn State was able to grab their first ever Big Ten victory against the Wolverines at home on February 8, in a 4-0 win at Pegula Ice Arena, on the shoulders of three first period goals and a 32-save shutout performance by goalie Matt Skoff.

In addition, two weeks later on February 21, the Nittany Lions were able to come back from two-goal deficits on two separate occasions on the road against those same Wolverines.
Speaking of Skoff, Gadowsky has already stated that he will go with his sophomore netminder between the pipes, in Thursday’s matchup against the Wolverines.

“I mean it’s fun obviously,” said Skoff on getting the nod in net. “As a goalie I want to play. Just anytime I get the chance to play I’m just gonna give my team the best chance to win.”

“We’re obviously confident going in. We’ve been playing our best hockey the past couple months. So not just playing against Michigan, but anybody we play against we’re going to be confident because we’ve been having some success in the Big Ten. I think these last two months were important for us to know that we could compete against anyone.”

Skoff is coming off a 27-save victory performance against Ohio State in the last regular season home game last Saturday, and was in net for both victories against Michigan this season. He is also the only Nittany Lion goalie with a win this season, grabbing all seven of them, and has started in seven of the last 10 games.

The Wolverines are led by Andrew Copp, senior captain Mac Bennett and the recently announced inaugural Big Ten Freshman of the Year J.T. Compher, who led the team in points during the regular season with 31. Copp, the first-year alternate captain, represented Team USA at the 2014 World Junior Championships in Malmo, Sweden, and led the team in goals with 15. Along with Compher, Bennett was named to the All-Big Ten second team and is a mainstay on the Michigan blueline.

The winner will advance and face the No.6 Wisconsin Badgers in the second round on Friday.

Ross Insana is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email rxi5007@psu.edu.