Comparing the Penn State and Union hockey teams heading into the NCAA tournament, at least on paper, it appears to be a fairly even matchup.
The offenses for both are prolific, with two of the top-4 scoring teams in the nation. The defenses are giving up nearly identical goal totals. Even the national rankings have them pretty close.
In other words, the Nittany Lions have a pretty fair chance to win their first NCAA playoff game in program history.
The Lions and Dutchmen meet at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at US Bank Arena in Cincinnati.
The biggest difference for Union, however, are the two men at the top of their scoring sheet.
Mike Vecchione and Spencer Foo have been burning up the nets with their scoring ability. They rank Nos. 3-4 in the nation in points, with Vecchione tied for second in goals with 29 while Foo is second in assists with 35. They have 62 and 59 total points, respectively.
And, up until a month ago, they were playing on the same line. They were together nearly all season, and last season, before an injury to a teammate contributed to putting them on different lines after a 6-2 loss to Harvard on Feb. 10.
In some ways they could be compared to the prolific “CCM” line of Michigan’s Kyle Connor, JT Compher and Tyler Mott last season – bringing nightmares to Nittany Lions fans.
When asked on Monday to compare the Dutchmen pair and the Wolverine trio, Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky had yet to see enough video to make the assessment, but acknowledged their talents.
“As far as those two, for sure,” Gadowsky said, when asked if they grabbed his attention. “They are obviously great goal scorers, and I also have familiarity with that program. I’m most impressed with their work ethic, their grit; they’ve got a great culture there. The coaching staff has done a great job bringing in hard-working players. So now they’re getting some of these high-end scorers. That’s what’s making them extremely dangerous.”
Beyond that duo — the only teammates who are among the 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award for the nation’s top player — the team had a few other offensive threats in Sebastian Vidman (14 goals, 26 assists) and Brett Supinksi (8 goals, 28 assists) for an offense that scores 3.78 goals per game.
For a Nittany Lions defense that allowed only five goals in 13 periods of hockey in the Big Ten tournament last week, it will be a major test to keep their dreams alive.
“We understand that they’re an unbelievable program,” defenseman David Thompson said. “They have some really incredible players that are coming out of there, doing some really special things. We know it’s going to be an absolute war.”
A capsule look at the four teams playing in the Midwest Regional:
Union (25-9-3): Making first NCAA appearance since winning the title in 2014, and fifth appearance in eight years. ... Tied for top of ECAC with Harvard. ... Lost to Cornell in ECAC semifinals 4-1. ... Had been unbeaten in last seven until Cornell loss. ... Union played at Pegula Ice Arena in 2013-14 (NCAA title) season, winning 4-3 and 5-4. Vecchione scored one goal in second game. ... Goalie Alex Sakellaropoulos has played in 29 games with a 22-5-2 record, .921 save percentage, 2.42 goals-against average. ... The team’s offense ranked No. 4 in nation, scoring 3.78 goals per game. ... The defense ranks 26th at 2.78 GPG. ... Union has an enrollment of about 2,200 students in Schenectady, N.Y.
Penn State (24-11-2): Making first NCAA appearance in fifth season of Division I hockey. ... Finished third in Big Ten. ... Won Big Ten tournament with 2-1 double-overtime victory over Wisconsin. ... Goalie Peyton Jones has played 34 games, posting a 22-9-2 record, .907 save percentage and 2.51 goals-against average. ... The offense is tied for second with Ohio State, scoring 3.97 goals per game. .. The defense ranks 22nd, allowing 2.68 GPG. ... Leading scorers are Denis Smirnov (17 G, 28 A), David Goodwin (11 G, 25 A), Andrew Sturtz (21 G, 13 A), Nate Sucese (15 G, 17 A) and Chase Berger (11 G, 21 A).
Denver (29-7-4): The tournament’s overall No. 1 seed. ... Making 27th NCAA appearance overall and 10th in a row. Program has been to 14 Frozen Fours and won seven titles. ... Regular-season NCHC champions, finished third in conference tournament. ... Has nation’s No. 1 defense, allowing 1.80 goals per game. Offense is 11th, scoring 3.30 per game. ... Defense anchored by defenseman Will Butcher, a Hobey Baker Award finalist. .. Minding the net is junior Tanner Jaillet, who has a 24-5-4 record. He is third in nation with 1.82 goals-against average, and fifth in nation with .930 save percentage. ... Jaillet was NCHC Goalie of the Year and is a finalist for the Mike Richter Award for the nation’s top goalie. ... Offense led by Florida Panthers draft pick Henrick Borgstrom, who is tied for 11th in nation with 21 goals, which leads all freshmen. ... Other top scorers include (Dylan Gambrell 11 G, 26 A), Troy Terry (19 G, 17 A), Will Butcher (6 G, 29 A).
Michigan Tech (23-14-7): The Huskies are essentially the tournament’s No. 16 seed, making field as WCHA tournament champions. ... Making 12th NCAA appearance, second in three years and the program has won three NCAA titles. ... Beat Bowling Green 3-2 in two overtimes to reach tournament. ... Offense struggles with 2.93 goals per game, 27th out of 60 teams in Division I. No player ranks in the nation’s top 50 in goals or assists. ... Defense is fifth, allowing 2.16 goals per game. ... Freshman goalie Angus Redmond is 22-9-5 and ranks second with a 1.76 goals-against average, with a .920 save percentage. ... Offense is led by Joel L’Esperance (11 G, 16 A), Shane Hanna (8 G, 18 A), Matt Roy (5 G, 21 A), Reid Sturos (11 G, 14 A) andd Gavin Gould (11 G, 11 A).