The Big Ten hockey schedule is once again lurching into gear this weekend for the Penn State men’s hockey team.
The Nittany Lions host Michigan State this weekend at Pegula Ice Arena, with games at 7 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday.
The games mark the fourth weekend series of conference action for Penn State, with each weekend set alternating week-to-week with a non-conference meeting. There will be another Big Ten opponent next week, with a visit to Ohio State, but then another non-league series follows and there won’t be another conference game until January.
It has been a change everyone to which everyone has had to adapt.
Although the team hasn’t been able to get into a rhythm of having the higher stakes of conference play, coach Guy Gadowsky wasn’t complaining Wednesday morning after practice.
“When you play a Big Ten opponent, things are just ratcheted up a little bit,” Gadowsky said. “It’s the same for everybody, which makes it a non-factor, but I can tell you this: No matter who we play, we look forward to playing at Pegula, and no matter where we play, we look forward to playing Big Ten opponents.”
The Nittany Lions can look forward to the games for a few additional reasons.
Gadowsky was voicing many more compliments about his defense than he was a few weeks ago. The team has allowed a total of three goals in the last three games, after giving up at least four goals in seven of the previous eight contests.
They also found their offense again, scoring 7-0 and 4-2 wins at Arizona State last weekend, peppering the net with 49 shots each night.
Gadowsky also was anticipating a little more good news with the return of defenseman Kevin Kerr. The junior missed the final month of last season with an injury, and also has been out since the opening weekend of this season. But Kerr was skating with the team at Wednesday’s practice and Gadowsky said he was optimistic Kerr would be playing this weekend.
However, Gadowsky was less certain on the status of another defenseman — Erik Autio. The senior was injured last weekend and sat out Wednesday’s practice. The coach also said sophomore Denis Smirnov, who has been battling an illness, would again miss this week’s games.
Also missing this weekend will be many of the students who fill the “Roar Zone” of one end of the rink, with the campus on a holiday break. The section will still be filled, but the seats were sold as single games to the general public.
With a reduced student presence combined with the holiday, the normal electricity in the arena may be affected. However, Gadowsky isn’t concerned.
“Obviously we love playing in front of the Roar Zone — they’re fantastic,” Gadowsky said. “Whenever the students have been away, the community has always risen up and been extremely supportive of us. I don’t know if it being Thanksgiving, if that’s going to change or not, but as long as we play here in Pegula, we should be all right.”
Men’s college hockey
Who: Michigan State (7-5, 1-3 Big Ten) at Penn State (7-7, 2-4)
When: 7 p.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Pegula Ice Arena
TV: Free online through LionVision
Radio: WAPY 103.1 FM
Leading scorers: PSU—Andrew Sturtz (7 goals, 9 assists), Denis Smirnov (5G, 6A), Brandon Biro (4G, 7A), Chase Berger (3G, 8A), Cole Hults (2G, 9A). MSU — Mitch Lewandowski (9G, 8A), Taro Hirose (3G, 12A), Patrick Khodorenko (4G, 7A), Cody Milan (3G, 7A)