UNIVERSITY PARK — Finally, the Penn State hockey team can stay at home for a little while.
It may be just what the Nittany Lions need to crack through for their first Big Ten win.
After spending the vast majority of the last two months on the road, Penn State begins a four-game home stand Friday night by opening a two-game series with No. 10 Michigan at Pegula Ice Arena.
“It can be fun to get in a groove here at home,” goalie Matthew Skoff said. “Seeing the crowd, it’s pretty easy to play in front of the home crowd like we have. Just getting back to that will be a good comfort zone to go back to.”
The puck drops at 7 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday.
There have been home games during this stretch, but not many.
Since Dec. 1, the Nittany Lions (4-17-1, 0-8 Big Ten) have had just three home games — two with No. 1 Minnesota and one with No. 2 Boston College. The meetings with the Golden Gophers were played on a Sunday and Monday nights just as students returned to campus to end winter break, so having a full and fervent student section cheering for them also will be welcome to the Lions.
“It’s easier to play here,” goalie Eamon McAdam said. “Easier to come out, see that crowd, see all that support. Easier to kind of get in a groove in a game as opposed to on the road when you’ve got a student section yelling at you or you see the wrong color.”
Minnesota also was the only Big Ten opponent to pay a visit to State College so far this season, with three of the first four conference series on the road. That, too has given the Nittany Lions an education.
“Playing on the road is something to learn,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “It’s a difference. Playing on the road with Big Ten points in conference games is different. They don’t give you an inch. They need those games. That’s what makes this league fantastic.”
All that time on the road has contributed to an eight-game losing streak, and losses in 14 of the last 15 games, with 10 games against ranked teams.
Another arrives Friday with the 10th-ranked Wolverines (13-6-3, 5-2-1-1).
Gadowsky’s team will have to break through against one of the nation’s best defenses. The Wolverines are seventh in the nation allowing 2.23 goals per game, with freshman goalie Zach Nagelvoort sitting sixth in Division I with a 1.61 goals-against average and tied for third with a .936 save percentage.
Not that Michigan’s offense is shabby, ranked 29th at 2.82 goals per game, but when compared to the last three opponents — Boston College, Minnesota and Ohio State are all in the top five — the Penn State defense will not be stretched quite as much.
“I know they’re very good defensively, but this is Michigan,” Gadowsky said. “I know some of the players they have. They do have offense. They’re Michigan. They can put the puck in the net.”
The Nittany Lions are scoring 2.18 goals per game (53rd) and are allowing 3.91 per night (55th).
Playing at home figures to give Penn State a better chance of turning those numbers around. Seven of the losses during the current slide were by one goal, and five of the last six home games have been decided by a single score.
Just being at home gives the Nittany Lions a chance to break the Big Ten ice.
“You’re on the road, you get tired, you get weary,” Gadowsky said. “Here the atmosphere is so great, and the student body is going nuts. It just inspires you to keep going. You feel a lot more energy. You have a lot of pride to play here. It’s great playing here.”
Notes: Michigan coach Red Barenson enters the game with 783 career wins, tied for No. 4 in Division I history with Rick Comley. … Penn State last won Dec. 27 against Robert Morris in Pittsburgh, and last won at home Nov. 8 against Sacred Heart. … The Nittany Lions have outshot their opponents in five of the last six games.