Series Preview: Penn State vs. Minnesota

Story posted November 17, 2020 in Sports, CommRadio by Kyle Cannillo

How it ended last season is how it starts this season. What seemed unlikely for quite some time is finally here. Penn State men’s hockey is set to take on Minnesota to officially drop the puck on the 2020-21 season.

It was nearly nine months ago when the Nittany Lions scored two goals in 31 seconds against the Golden Gophers to help propel them to their first regular season Big Ten championship. Since then, a global pandemic, the loss of 12 starters and a completely new set of skates hung up in the locker room have all happened. It’s been a whirlwind of change for Penn State hockey.

While Penn State was ranked No. 9 in the preseason USCHO.com poll, the Nittany Lions were pegged to finish last in the Big Ten according to the Big Ten coaches poll. This is due to the fact that Penn State will be forced to replace program greats Nate Sucese, Brandon Biro, Nikita Pavlychev, Evan Barratt and Big Ten Player of the Year Cole Hults.

All eyes turn to a freshman class, including an extremely young defensive core. Head coach Guy Gadowsky will have to rely on first-year starters Kenny Johnson and Jim Dowd Jr. to slam the door on opposing offenses.

Despite neither being NHL draft picks, both players have NHL ties. Johnson is the younger brother of current New York Ranger Jack Johnson. The father of Jim Dowd Jr. played 13 years in the NHL, winning a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils.

In contrast to young faces on the back end, the return of forwards Alex Limoges and Aarne Talvitie will be critical this season. With 32 points in 30 games a season ago, Limoges especially will help command Penn State offensively.

However, in order to match the team's success from a year ago, Penn State must get a substantial increase in production out of second-year forwards Kevin Wall, Connor McMenamin, Connor MacEachern and Tyler Gratton. With huge shoes to fill and increased ice time, it will be up to the more experienced players to demonstrate Gadowsky’s aggressive and powerful offensive system.

Despite the series history between Minnesota and Penn State being tied at 15-15-1, the Nittany Lions have won 12 of the last 14 meetings against the Golden Gophers.

A season ago, Minnesota was unable to beat Penn State, going 0-3-1 in the four meetings. Despite a slow start, the Golden Gophers were one of the hottest teams in the nation headed into the Big Ten Tournament and were set to take on Penn State for a fifth time in the semifinals.

This year’s Minnesota team is gearing up for what the Golden Gophers believe could be a run at the national championship. They have an NCAA-high 14 NHL draft picks, including six in the top three rounds. This includes senior goalie and Carolina Hurricanes third rounder Jack LaFontaine.

Junior forward Sammy Walker led the Golden Gophers in overall points past season with 11 goals and 19 assists for 30 points. His four game-winning goals ranked 10th in the NCAA.

The Big Ten has implemented new rules for the following season. There will be only one media timeout per period after the 10-minute mark. In addition, intermissions will be shortened to 12 minutes. The Big Ten also scrapped the 5-on-5 overtime period and will go directly to 3-on-3 if necessary.

With that, the schedule is also a bit unconventional. Thursday’s matchup is set for 8:30 p.m, while Friday will drop the puck at 4 p.m. You can listen to both games here on CommRadio.

Prediction: Minnesota sweeps Penn State 2-0

Game 1: Minnesota 6, Penn State 1

Game 2: Minnesota 5, Penn State 3

 

Kyle Cannillo is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email kcannillo1@gmail.com.