It seems like it’s been so long since the Penn State men’s hockey team has been on the ice.
It’s been 34 days, to be exact.
“They were able to focus on academics for a while, which is nice,” coach Guy Gadowsky said in a phone interview, proudly bragging about his team’s 3.3 grade-point average for the fall semester, “and there were bumps and bruises to heal up.”
After posting 6-1 and 5-1 wins over Michigan on the first two days of December, the Nittany Lions have had the engine on idle, sitting on the nation’s best record (13-1-1), unbeaten streak (13 games) and win streak (11) while rising to No. 2 in the national polls.
The engine finally gets revved up again at 7 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday against No. 11 Ohio State (9-3-4).
“Everybody’s really hungry to get back,” Gadowsky said.
Following the sweep of the Wolverines, the Nittany Lions held a handful of practices, then as soon as each of their final exams were done, players scattered. Everyone went home, including Erik Autio to Finland and Denis Smirnov and Nakita Pavlychev to Russia. Smirnov was stuck in Moscow a couple extra days because of travel issues, but everyone else was back for practices by Dec. 28 and they all are eager to meet the Buckeyes, the preseason pick as the Big Ten favorite.
Ohio State returned most of its top players from last season, including the bulk of its scoring and both starting goalies. The Nittany Lions and Buckeyes also enter the weekend ranked first and third in the nation, respectively, in scoring at 4.87 and 4.44 goals per game.
“We don’t think about it at all,” Gadowsky said of the preseason expectation for both teams. “We’re two very good teams, period. It doesn’t matter who the favorite is, it’s how prepared you are to compete Friday night and Saturday night.”
While Penn State had such a long hiatus, Ohio State was off nearly as long, splitting two games with Minnesota the same weekend the Nittany Lions met Michigan, but the Buckeyes did get one game to shake off the rust, falling 6-3 to Miami, Ohio, last Saturday.
“Whoever wins the game will be whoever had their team most prepared to compete,” Gadowsky said. “It was up to us to have a really good week-plus of practice.”
Gadowsky said the lineup for Friday should be the same as that for the second game against the Wolverines on Dec. 2. There is only one injury of note, with sophomore winger Alec Marsh sidelined for a while with a lower body injury, according to the coach. Marsh was knocked out early in the first game against Michigan.