Notre Dame is visiting Penn State this weekend.
The traditional golden helmets may be drawing the eyes inside skating around Pegula Ice Arena instead of on the green grass of Beaver Stadium, but those filling the arena’s blue seats will feel just the same about the Fighting Irish.
Whenever Penn State meets Notre Dame in any athletic event, it just feels like a bigger deal than an ordinary weekend.
The Nittany Lion hockey players could feel it this week.
No. 17 Penn State is in need of some big wins to end a five-game winless slide and help bolster its NCAA tournament resume when it hosts No. 2 Notre Dame at 6:30 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday.
How big is a visit from the Fighting Irish? Just ask Andrew Sturtz, who has been getting pestered by friends and relatives for game tickets.
“I know there’s a lot of people trying to get tickets and I know there’s not a lot available,” the junior forward said, later adding, “As of right now I take care of my family and that’s it.”
When Notre Dame made its only previous appearance at Pegula Ice Arena two seasons ago, the demand was just as high, and the prices on the secondary market reached into the hundreds of dollars. As of Thursday afternoon on StubHub, the asking prices ranged from $45 into the hundreds, with one ticket posted at $999. There aren’t that many available.
“It was a really tough ticket to get,” coach Guy Gadowsky said of the games in October 2015. “That being the case, because of the history of Notre Dame, (it) is important. Right now you have a point in the season, you have Notre Dame No. 1 in the PairWise and for us, it’s a huge weekend.”
The games have even more hanging in the balance with Notre Dame added to the Big Ten for hockey, and the Irish took command immediately. They won their first 13 conference games before losing two of their last three, and are far in front of the rest in the standings. They rank second in the two national polls and are tied with Cornell at No. 1 in the PairWise rankings, which serve as a strong indicator for the 16-team NCAA field. The Nittany Lions are No. 15 in those rankings, putting them on the tournament bubble with just four games left in the regular season after this weekend.
“For the State College fans, it’s a Notre Dame game,” Gadowsky said. “I don’t know if that (the Irish are in the Big Ten) matters, but I think for the team right now, not only is this very important from a national level, but on a conference standpoint, it is as well.”
The mere mention of Notre Dame seems to stoke the fires of Penn State alumni, especially those who have strong memories of the meetings between the football programs in the 1980s and early 90s. Frequently, the teams had national championship hopes strengthened — or dashed — after they tangled. The rivalry spreads to other sports as well, including a few notable clashes in women’s basketball and soccer.
The feelings are building on the ice. The Nittany Lions got a huge dose of confidence in the opening weeks of last season with a tie and win in South Bend against then-No. 3 Notre Dame. The Irish went on to play in the Frozen Four last spring.
“It’s a big-time school,” Sturtz said. “Everyone knows who they are. It’s going to be a big weekend because of that. I think for us, it’s moreso, you come to the Big Ten to play these kind of teams.”
The mere sight of the shiny gold helmets will certainly have Nittany Lion fans inspired.
“If I could imagine what this rink’s going to be like on Friday night,” Sturtz said, “I think it will play in our favor.”
Who: No. 2 Notre Dame (20-5-1, 14-2 Big Ten) at No. 17 Penn State (13-11-4, 6-8-4-2)
Where: Pegula Ice Arena
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday
TV: BTN (Friday)
Radio: WAPY 103.1
Leading scorers: PSU — Andrew Sturtz (11 goals, 20 assists), Brandon Biro (6 G, 19 A), Denis Smirnov (13 G, 9 A), Nate Sucese (11 G, 11 A), Trevor Hamilton (4 G, 18 A). ND — Jake Evans (9G, 22A), Andrew Oglevie 10 G, 13 A), Jordan Gross (6 G, 14 A), Cal Burke (12 G, 5 A)