Series Preview: Penn State vs. Niagara
Kyle Cannillo, Matt McClure, Francesco deFalco, and Derek Heid preview Penn State's upcoming series with the Niagara Purple Eagles.
The Penn State Nittany Lions hope to continue their win streak this weekend in a home series against the Niagara Purple Eagles.
The Nittany Lions (2-0) are off to a hot start after a series sweep against Clarkson last weekend. Penn State's two home wins brought it up to 10 in the USCHO rankings, and its nine goals in its first two games indicate what looks to be a very productive offense.
Junior forwards Brandon Biro and Nate Sucese lead the team in total points with four each. Biro’s team-leading two goals helped name him the Big Ten Second Star of the Week.
Another notable player from last week’s series was Nikita Pavlychev. The junior forward was responsible for three points in the second game against Clarkson, which was a career-high. At 6 feet 7 inches, 212 pounds, the Penguins draft pick is an enforcer on the ice, and if he continues to improve as he has been, he can back the rest of the offense in a goal-scoring powerhouse.
Penn State should also be optimistic with Peyton Jones staying at goalie after missing the first game of the season. Senior goalie Chris Funkey got the opening day start last Thursday, while Jones’ 35 saves and one goal allowed the following night landed him all the way up at fifth in NCAA save percentage. If the second game against Clarkson last week was any indication, Jones could compete for a spot in the top-goalie conversation this season, which will certainly complement the offense this coming weekend. Funkey has also proven over the last couple of seasons that he is a very capable backup to Jones when needed.
The Niagara Purple Eagles are off to a 1-1 start after splitting their series with American International College last week, but they can be somewhat optimistic in this upcoming series and the rest of the season with their young talent. Niagara is led in points by freshman forward Dylan Mills with four, and another freshman forward Ludwig Stenlund leads them in goals. Mills’ performance in Niagara's first series earned him Atlantic Hockey’s Rookie of the Week. His four points are also tied for first among NCAA rookies and tied for first in the conference. Mills also leads all AHA rookies in assists with three.
One area Niagara needs to improve upon is their goaltender play. Sophomore Brian Wilson is currently tied for 41st in NCAA save percentage. He allowed five goals with 42 saves in the series last weekend.
Finding a win this weekend will be a challenge for Niagara. Its keys to success lie behind further improvement from its rookie forwards, and Wilson will need to play at a much higher level if he wants to keep the Nittany Lions offense in check. There is not much to gain for Penn State this weekend, but there is a lot to lose, so they should expect and prepare to stay undefeated come next week.
Francesco de Falco is a freshman majoring in journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.