The mere mention of the name perks up most Penn State sports fans.
The Nittany Lion men’s hockey team is on the road this weekend for a battle with No. 3 Notre Dame at 7:35 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday at the Compton Family Ice Arena.
“I know everybody’s super excited to get to Notre Dame and start going,” senior forward Ricky DeRosa said earlier this week. “I think our main focus is just Friday, it’s all we’re focusing on now. Just play Penn State hockey.”
And, statistically speaking, it figures to be a pretty good show on the ice.
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Both programs have offenses ranked in the top five in the nation. The Fighting Irish (3-1) are fourth in Division I (4.75 goals per game) and the Nittany Lions (2-1) are fifth (4.67) through the first two weeks of the season.
Leading that Notre Dame offense is Anders Bjork, a Boston Bruins draft pick who has already posted five goals and five assists through four games to lead the nation in scoring, with several teammates also among the top 20 in Division I.
However, as strong as that offense may be, the Irish defense is also pretty solid. It ranks 14th in goals allowed (2.25 per game), and a major reason is junior goaltender Cal Petersen, a Buffalo Sabres draft pick. He started every game last season, helping the team to the NCAA tournament, and ranks among the nation’s top goalies.
“Their real strength, boy they don’t give you much,” Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said. “They’re such a well-coached team in those major areas. They don’t have breakdowns. They don’t have to work for what you get. You’re not given a freebie.”
In all, the Irish have eight NHL draft picks on the roster. Penn State has just one — freshman forward Nikita Pavlychev was picked by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Even with such a stellar resume for the Irish, the Nittany Lions say they will not do anything special to prepare for the weekend.
Especially with early-season, nonconference games, Gadowsky prefers to focus preparation on what his team does well, and doesn’t do well, than worry about scouting and preparing for a specific opponent. Yes, they have watched game tapes of each of the Fighting Irish’s first four games, and have picked out a few details to worry about, but the coaches do not want to get wrapped up in facing a highly-ranked opponent.
“I don’t think, because of where they’re ranked, it’s not like we’re going to spend more time on aspects of their game than we normally do,” Gadowsky said. “We’re going to prepare the same for every team.”
One area of study will be an irresistible force against an immovable object — Notre Dame is converting 27 percent of its power plays this season, good for seventh in the nation, while Penn State leads Division I by killing 100 percent of its penalties.
Two games the Nittany Lions did not plan on studying were the two meetings the teams had last season in Pegula Ice Arena. They split those games, but with so many faces gone on both sides, it would be hard to learn much from those videos.
Still, DeRosa remembers the contests and knows it will be a challenge to win in South Bend.
“They’re a quick team,” DeRosa said. “Tough to play against. We’re really looking forward to Friday night to compete, go out there and see what we can do.”
Who: Penn State (2-1) at No. 3 Notre Dame (3-1)
Where: Compton Family Ice Arena, South Bend, Ind.
When: 7:35 p.m. Friday, 7 p.m. Saturday
Radio: WAPY 103.1
TV: NBCsports.com (online, Friday); NBC Sports Network (Saturday)
Leading scorers: PSU—Chase Berger (1 goal, 4 assists), Andrew Sturtz (3 G, 1 A), Nate Sucese (3 G). ND—Anders Bjork (5 G, 5 A), Dylan Malmquist (3 G, 5 A), Connor Hurley (1 G, 6 A).