One place can mean many things to different people, and that’s the case with Pegula Ice Arena this weekend.
For No. 11 Penn State, it’s a homecoming site as the Nittany Lions return to home ice for the first time since Dec. 8. For visiting Michigan State, the 6,014-seat arena at the corner of University Drive and Curtin Road has been a house of horrors. MSU has won just once in 10 games at Penn State, and it has been swept in its past three series, getting outscored 29-12.
For Penn State fans, the two-game series culminates with a milestone — the 125th home game since the arena opened in 2013.
There’s abundant opportunity for Penn State. A sweep would vault the Nittany Lions in the Big Ten standings, where they currently sit sixth with 14 points. That’s just one point behind Notre Dame, Minnesota and Michigan, who are deadlocked in third place. Notre Dame and Minnesota play their own series this weekend.
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Coach Guy Gadowsky offered some insight and dutiful framing.
“What the coaches talk about is not necessarily what we talk about as a team. We know the standings, we know the deal, but as a team we are always just looking at the next game. Always,” Gadowsky said. “We have an opportunity with Michigan State Friday night. That’s all our focus is, and we want to leave it at that. What the coaches talk about in terms of long-term preparation with the team, that might be a little different.”
Penn State remains the nation’s highest-scoring team (4.95 goals per game) and boasts the most effective power play in the conference. Conversely, Michigan State has the conference’s least effective penalty-killing unit and racks up more penalty minutes (13.6 per game) than any other Big Ten team.
While MSU’s Taro Hirose is the nation’s leading scorer (nine goals, 22 assists, 31 points), the Spartans average just 2.70 goals per game.
Six of the conference’s top-seven points producers could play this weekend — Hirose and Patrick Khodorenko for Michigan State, and Alex Limoges, Evan Barratt, Liam Folkes and Brandon Biro for Penn State. But, on the heels of their efforts at the World Junior Championships, Barratt might not play as much this weekend while fellow forward Aarne Talvitie will reportedly not be in the lineup.
Talvitie told Yie Sports in Finland that he was injured and would require knee surgery. (Talvitie’s Finland team beat Barratt’s United States squad in the gold-medal game.) He was set to be looked at by Penn State doctors, but there’s not yet any official confirmation from the Nittany Lions.
“We are as deep as we’ve ever been, at every position,” Gadowsky said earlier this week. “I’m glad that’s the case.”
That gives the coach the flexibility to manage time playing time — not that he’d keep Barratt off the ice if he were ready. He sits third nationally in scoring despite missing three games for the tournament. It also helps offset Talvitie’s absence.
Gadowsky and his players are also glad to be home where attendance has been 104.8 percent of capacity this season. Penn State averages 6,061 fans per game, sixth nationally.
“It’s the best rink in the Big Ten. It’s the perfect size,” said Biro, who has two goals and an assist in the past three games. “When it’s full here, the crowd is rocking and it gives us a lot of energy.”
No. 11 Penn State (12-6-2, 4-5-1 Big Ten) vs. Michigan State (6-11-3, 2-6-2 Big Ten)
Weekend Series: 8 p.m. Friday; 7 p.m. Saturday
Radio/TV: Both games on 103.1 FM, GoPSUsports.com and BTNPlus, with Friday’s game televised by Big Ten Network.
Notable: Penn State’s has just one loss in 10 home games (6-1-3) against the Spartans — the Nittany Lions’ best performance any conference opponent. … Michigan State is 3-6-1 on the road this season. … Saturday’s game will be Penn State’s 125th at Pegula Ice Arena since it opened in October 2013.