It’s a common cliché coaches break out when facing an opponent for a second time in the season that the teams are so much different than the first meeting.
But when it’s been a mere 13 days since they last met, and only two games played by each, is it really that big of a difference for the Penn State and Ohio State men’s hockey teams this weekend?
Yes — and no.
The Nittany Lions and Buckeyes will face off at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with fresh memories of splitting two games in Columbus on Jan. 6 and 7.
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Looking at the big picture, schematically, they are the same teams, and just a few tweaks will be needed to the scouting report the coaches put together.
However, as head coach Guy Gadowsky pointed out Monday in his weekly session with the media, “Both teams are going to be different than what we saw last week.”
Even though it does not impact anything on the ice, a huge difference for the Nittany Lions is the number next to their name — this week, for the first time in program history, Penn State is the No. 1 team in the nation. Ohio State is No. 11.
“So many of our teams at Penn State are having phenomenal years,” senior forward Ricky DeRosa said. “We’re just trying to do our best to keep up here.”
While it may make the Nittany Lions more of a target, and excite the Buckeyes a little more, it doesn’t change much in reality.
But on the ice, Penn State should be playing much more fluid, not the rusty play from the games in Columbus when the Lions were coming back from a 34-day break.
A major alteration for Ohio State may be who is — and is not — on the ice. Possibly returning to the lineup is forward Tanner Laczynski, who missed the two previous games while playing at the World Junior Championships, helping Team USA to a 5-4 win over Canada in a shootout in the gold medal game in Montreal.
However, according to Scarlet and Grey Radio’s Miles McQuinn, Laczynski is day-to-day with an injury, as is Matthew Weis, Dakota Joshua and leading scorer Nick Schilkey, who scored two goals in the second game against the Lions two weeks ago.
Laczynski, a freshman and a Philadelphia Flyers sixth-round draft pick, missed only three Buckeye games while playing in the junior worlds, and is tied for the team lead with 17 assists to go with six goals this season.
“There is a bit of familiarity, some physical play, I think that will continue,” Gadowsky said. “But I expect both teams to be better.”
In a matchup of the nation’s top two scoring teams, the previous meetings were defensive battles. Ohio State won 3-0 the first night, then the Lions followed with a 4-2 win.
While the Nittany Lions offense has been rolling to big games – other than that 3-0 loss – the team has also seen a lot of balance. Andrew Sturtz (14), Denis Smirnov (11) and Chase Berger (10) are all in double figures for goal-scoring, but 20 different players have found the net and five Lions are in double digits for assists.
“It kind of shows you that, hey, we are very deep,” said DeRosa, who has four goals and three assists. “There’s a lot of guys in this lineup that have been goal-scorers in the past, posted high numbers, and they can score goals given the chance. I think it’s just a matter of executing.”
Even with the split between the teams two weekends earlier, Gadowsky is still expecting a pair of tight, hard-fought games and Penn State has its best chance of winning by sticking with its game plan.
“It’s because of how we’ve done all year and how we prepare this week,” Gadowsky said, “not due to what happened at Columbus.”
Men’s ice hockey
Who: No. 11 Ohio State (11-4-5, 2-2 Big Ten) at No. 1 Penn State (16-2-1, 5-1)
Where: Pegula Ice Arena
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday
Radio: WAPY 103.1
Video: BTN-Plus (online only)
Leading scorers: OSU—Nick Schilkey (17 goals, 8 assists), Mason Jobst (7 G, 17 A), Tanner Laczynski (6 G, 17 A), David Gust (12 G, 8 A). PSU—Denis Smirnov (11 G, 18 A), Trevor Hamilton (3 G, 16 A), David Goodwin (2 G, 17 A), Chase Berger (10 G, 8 A), Andrew Sturtz (14 G, 3 A).