The Penn State men’s hockey team probably could not pick a better time to kick off Big Ten play.
They probably could not have a better opponent to start conference play, either.
The Nittany Lions (6-2-2) are in Yost Ice Arena Ann Arbor, Michigan, to meet the Wolverines (4-5) at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
The Lions are feeling pretty good about themselves, not just because of their overall record, but they also scored the program’s first win over a top-five team, upending Massachusetts-Lowell last Saturday.
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“The confidence we’ve built just throughout the entire season, I think going into (Lowell) we were more confident than we’ve ever been,” leading scorer Casey Bailey said. “We had the chance to knock off the fourth-ranked opponent, we had the confidence to do that.”
It was a landmark win as far as the opponent’s ranking, but Penn State is starting to get used to big wins and the novelty has worn off.
The Nittany Lions beat Michigan 3 of 5 times last season, including at Yost Ice Arena and in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.
“The win is very nice and everything,” coach Guy Gadowsky said of beating UMass Lowell. “But I think ... they were just proud of themselves that they proved to themselves that they could have a very good performance against such a tough team.”
One of the major reasons for the Nittany Lions’ strong play to start the season has been its offense.
Penn State is tied for second in the nation, scoring 3.80 goals per game, and two of the nation’s top scorers are on the same line.
Taylor Holstrom leads the nation in scoring with 16 points on three goals and 13 assists, while Bailey has eight goals, tied for eighth and one off the best in Division I.
Throw in David Goodwin, who is third on the team with four goals and five assists, and Penn State has the highest-scoring line in the country.
“A big part of what they’re doing is the synergy that all three of them have,” Gadowsky said. “Something that’s really common for Casey and Taylor ... they’re both working extremely hard away from the puck.”
Michigan, by the way, is averaging 3.33 goals per game (tied for 12 th) but is 51 st in defense, allowing 3.56 goals per outing.
Gadowsky gives a lot of credit to the hard work that has set up the offense, too. The defensemen are quicker and more precise moving the puck forward in transition, and the forwards are better able to sustain possessions to get off more shots, and better quality opportunities.
All four lines have benefited from the cohesive play, but the Bailey-Goodwin-Holstrom line has been the biggest beneficiary.
“The results that those two have gotten,” Gadowsky said, “have been a little bit more of an indication of the entire team play, and certainly involves the defense.”
“We’re building a lot of chemistry,” Bailey said. “We’re having a lot of fun playing together and it’s paying off.”