The Penn State men’s hockey team has already had its share of top venues, including the chance to play in front of big crowds in NHL arenas.
But Saturday night is going to be special, and even head coach Guy Gadowsky, who has seen his share of rinks around North America and the world, is eager to get to the game.
The Nittany Lions will face Cornell at 8 p.m. Saturday at New York’s Madison Square Garden in the “Frozen Apple.”
“It certainly is going to be an honor to compete in that arena,” Gadowsky said. “I know the guys will be extremely excited. I know the coaching staff is excited. They’re going to be absolutely pumped to play there.”
Penn State has already played games in both Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center and Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center — and has more games set at those arenas later this season — and played in the Big Ten Tournament last season at the Xcel Energy Center, home of the Minnesota Wild.
While those are all nice, large, modern NHL arenas, none of them have the history of Madison Square Garden.
The “World’s Most Famous Arena” has been hosting everything from dog shows to NBA and Stanley Cup Finals and boxing title bouts for decades.
“It really is just a tremendous opportunity,” Gadowsky said. “I think it’s going to be a great experience.”
The Nittany Lions enter the evening feeling pretty confident.
They didn’t have the best results in their last game, an 8-1 loss to Michigan, but have otherwise gotten many in college hockey to take notice of the third-year Division I program that is off to a 7-3-2 start to the season.
Penn State also boasts Division I’s eighth-best scoring offense, at 3.50 goals per game, with Casey Bailey tied for fourth in goals (9) and Taylor Holstrom tied for fourth in total points (17) and tied for first in assists (13).
They will meet a Big Red team (3-4-1) that is only scoring 1.75 goals per game this season — 54th in the nation — but also is giving up just 1.62 per game, which is tied for third.
While there is the novelty of the venue for the Nittany Lions, playing in midtown Manhattan has become standard for Cornell, which has a huge alumni base there. The Big Red will be making their sixth appearance at the arena, and for the fifth straight season.
With Penn State also boasting a strong alumni presence in the New York metro area, Gadowsky thinks the arena will be balanced.
“With the great Penn State alumni, I don’t expect anyone to have home ice on us,” Gadowsky said.
The game is actually not the first meeting between the two campuses that are about three hours apart, although no one on either bench was alive for the last meeting. Cornell beat Penn State 7-1 the previous time it had a varsity hockey program in 1944.
The game, in addition to holding it during Thanksgiving week, is sandwiched between a pair of Big Ten weekends for Penn State. The split against the Wolverines last weekend opened the conference season, and the Nittany Lions head to Wisconsin next weekend.
With Penn State possibly missing a number of regulars to either short-term or long-term injuries, Gadowsky would like to see his team get a chance to mend. The Lion leader said forwards David Glen, Eric Scheid and Dylan Richard and defenseman Connor Varley each have “day-to-day” injuries, and forward Zach Saar has missed every game after surgery over the summer.
“Especially with where we are with health,” Gadowsky said, “it would be nice to have a whole week off, but that’s not the case.”