It’s a home game away from home for the Penn State men’s hockey team.
The Nittany Lions have skated in a number of NHL arenas over the last few seasons, but none provide what the Wells Fargo Center gives.
With a strong alumni base in the area, Penn State should be pretty comfortable when it meets Princeton in the Philadelphia College Hockey Faceoff at 7 p.m. Saturday.
It will mark the Nittany Lions’ fifth appearance in the arena – every season they have been a Division I program – with the first four against Vermont. With crowds better than 10,000 each time, including 19,529 in 2013, a lot more blue and white fans get to cheer on their team.
And, a lot of friends and relatives of a handful of players get to make a much shorter drive to see them. There are four natives of the Philly area, including freshman goalie Peyton Jones. The Langhorne product played in the arena a couple times in high school, and his grandfather, who is not in the best of health and can’t make the trip to State College, will get to watch his grandson play.
“It’ll be awesome,” Jones said. “This is the closest I’ve played to home in the past three or four years, so it’ll be good. I’ve got a lot of family coming, a lot of friends there. It’ll be fun.”
Defensemen David Thompson and Kevin Kerr and forward Ricky DeRosa are the others who grew up in the area.
However, the Nittany Lions are more interested in bouncing back from a rough weekend after Ohio State roughed them up.
For much of the two games, it seemed as if a different team was on the ice, not the group that was pulling together all the way to the nation’s top ranking. Coach Guy Gadowsky said his team was doing “things that weren’t ‘us.’”
“We don’t have to do anything more special,” said Gadowsky, who could earn his 250th coaching win Saturday. “We just have to be ‘us’ more consistently, even when things might not feel like they’re going our way.”
There were plenty of issues that really had not appeared all season until last Friday, such as bad turnovers and leaving players unmarked in front of the net. That led to several rather easy Buckeye goals, victimizing Jones in his worst outings since the team lost to St. Lawrence in the second game of the season.
“We’ll see how he responds,” Gadowsky said. “He definitely deserves to get right back up on the horse, I think. There’s no better place to do it than his hometown.”
Jones still ranks among the nation’s best in a number of statistical categories, and the freshman is confident he can shake off last weekend’s troubles.
“It’s not that tough for me,” Jones said. “I’m kind of the guy, regardless if it’s a big win or a big loss or even a game we lost in a shootout, I try to just — I try to move, I try to have a short memory.”
The Nittany Lions would have loved to hit the ice against the Tigers ranked No. 1, but are more than happy to be ranked where they are, and the throngs of Penn State fans in the arena likely won’t be bothered either.
“Any college hockey player would take where we’re at over where a lot of other teams are at,” Andrew Sturtz said. “That being said, it’s still January, still a lot of work to do. We want to be in a position like this come April.”
Who: No. 4 Penn State (16-3-2) vs. Princeton (7-11-2)
What: Philadelphia College Hockey Faceoff
Where: Wells Fargo Center
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Radio: WAPY 103.1
Video: www.ivyleaguedigitalnetwork.com (pay)
Leading scorers: PSU—Denis Smirnov (11 goals, 18 assists), Chase Berger (10 G, 11 A), David Goodwin (2 G, 18 A), Andrew Sturtz (15 G, 3 A). Princeton—Max Veronneau (7 G, 16 A), Ryan Kuffner (10 G, 10 A), Jackson Cressey (5 G, 13 A), Eric Robinson (8 G, 3 A).