Penn State Set for Arizona State Series

posted November 2, 2018 in Sports, CommRadio by Jeremy Schooler

After an impressive 4-2 win over No. 13 Princeton last week to get to 5-0, the No. 6 ranked
Penn State hockey team is now off to its best start in program history. The Nittany Lions
are ranked sixth in the country, their highest ranking since January 2017, and are being led
by solid goaltending from Peyton Jones and Chris Funkey, as well as the best face-off man
in the country in senior transfer student Ludvig Larsson.

The Nittany Lions now have a home series against Arizona State in a matchup of
NCAA Hockey’s two newest programs. The Sun Devils, one of two NCAA hockey schools in
the south (the other is Alabama-Huntsville), are in just their fourth year at the Division I
level, and are not yet in a conference. Penn State’s Division I program was established just
three years prior, and they also were initially not in a conference until the Big Ten began
sponsoring hockey.

This weekend’s series will be the third all-time between the Sun Devils and Nittany
Lions following two game sets in State College in 2016 and Tempe last year, both of which swept by
Penn State. Penn State has dominated the Sun Devils, outscoring them 26-6 in the four previous
games and averaging an incredible 6.5 goals per game.

Arizona State has struggled in its first few years at the Division 1 level, but can look to Penn State for hope that the future will be bright. Within six seasons of moving to Division I, the Nittany Lions had a Big Ten championship, Frozen Four
appearance and two NCAA tournament appearances on their résumé. While the Sun Devils
may not be at that level yet, they have had an impressive start to this season with home
sweeps over Alaska-Fairbanks and Nebraska-Omaha as well as a sweep at
Alabama-Huntsville. Their only two losses were against Ohio State, who was No. 1 in the
country at the time. This success has earned them 20 votes for the USCHO rankings this
past week.

Penn State, who was the only team this week that received first places votes (1)
other than No. 1 ranked Minnesota-Duluth (47) and No. 2 ranked St. Cloud St. (2), has slowly
moved up the rankings. Although their 5-0 record has had a major impact on how high the
Nittany Lions are ranked, numerous teams above them being upset has had a large impact
as well. In fact, Penn State is the only team in the country other than No. 15 Quinnipiac (also
5-0-0) that has played at least two games this year and not lost a single one.

Yale and Dartmouth are both undefeated, but have only played one game due to the shortened Ivy
League season. Additionally, many teams are undefeated, but have tied.

Although Arizona State will come to State College as substantial underdogs this
weekend, they have a chance to pull off an upset, or even two, if Johnny Walker plays well.
Walker, a sophomore native of Phoenix, is the clear cut best player for the Sun Devils, and
everything on their offense revolves around him. A major reason they have had such a
strong start to their season is that he has been sizzling hot, average over 1.6 points a game.
Less than 10 years ago, it would have seemed crazy to many that Arizona State and
Penn State could one day face off in Division I hockey. With the growth of American hockey,
and the rapid expansion of the sport at the NCAA’s highest level -- as well as some generous
monetary gifts -- this matchup is not only possible, but has happened four times already and is
now happening again with one of the teams ranked and another on the cusp of their first
ranking. It should be a very competitive and well-played weekend of hockey in Happy Valley.

 

 

Jeremy Schooler is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism and business. To contact him, email jeremysschooler@gmail.com.