Penn State Hockey

Penn State hockey hoping weekend series vs. Wisconsin helps extend season

Penn State forward Alec Marsh, seen here last season, is one of six seniors who will be honored during the Nittany Lions’ final regular season home series this weekend.
Penn State forward Alec Marsh, seen here last season, is one of six seniors who will be honored during the Nittany Lions’ final regular season home series this weekend. psheehan@centredaily.com

Some guarantees, like those offered with a major appliance or vehicle purchase, can offer security and stability.

Others seem less secure — especially if you’re a Division I men’s hockey player with just six games remaining in your career.

“I just want this to go as long as it possibly can,” said Alec Marsh, one of six seniors who will be honored during Penn State’s final regular season home series this weekend. “It’s been unbelievable and I’m really grateful for how it’s gone. I hope it just keeps going.”

For Marsh and his teammates, the six-game guarantee includes two this weekend against Wisconsin, two at Notre Dame next weekend and at least two in the Big Ten tournament. Some victories, whether they come in the regular season to boost the team’s flickering NCAA tournament hopes, or whether the Nittany Lions win two games in the conference tournament to advance to the single-elimination semifinals, would extend the season.

At this point, Penn State sits 18th in the number-driven PairWise Rankings that determine the 16-team NCAA tournament field. The Nittany Lions are on the outside looking in despite having more victories than they did at this time last season.

Still, the program’s recent success, reaching the NCAA tournament the past two seasons and claiming the conference crown in 2017, has raised the bar.

“The reality is it’s changed expectations for this program, and I think that’s fair,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “We feel the same as most of our supporters and fans that the NCAA tournament is sort of that threshold, that if you’ve make it you have a had a good season, regardless of certain things that go along. And if you haven’t, even though you do a lot of great things that are better than last year, etc., there’s a question that maybe you’ve left something on the table.”

His team’s inconsistency has been its biggest challenge. While the offensive-minded squad has led the nation all season in scoring (4.6 goals per game), ill-timed defensive lapses have hurt.

Working to improve in that area has presented additional challenges for a team that has a fairly secure identity.

“It’s really intoxicating and you get seduced into trying to do more and more and more, but inevitably it’s harder to get good at what you do,” Gadowsky said. “So the balance is between adding and staying great at what you do. It’s a very precocious line.”

Along with Marsh, the senior group includes captain Chase Berger, who has played in all 145 of the team’s games during his career; Chris Funkey; Derian Hamilton; Kevin Kerr and Ludvig Larsson.

Funkey, a goalie and who started six games earlier this season and posted a 4-1 record with a 3.72 goals-against average, would be a somewhat surprising starter in either game this weekend. He’s universally respected by coaches and teammates, but also clearly the backup.

For a team potentially without its best player — forward Evan Barratt’s status remains uncertain — and trying to secure points in order to host the Big Ten quarterfinals, altering its approach in goal seems unlikely.

The top team in the conference (Ohio State has secured that spot) gets a bye in the quarterfinal round with the other six teams playing three-game series against each other at the home of the higher seed. At this point, both Penn State and Wisconsin would be on the road for those games.

No. 19 Penn State (17-11-2, 9-10-1 Big Ten) vs. Wisconsin (10-15-5, 6-9-5 Big Ten)

Weekend Series: 6:30 p.m. Friday; 7 p.m. Saturday

Radio/TV: Both games on 103.1 FM and GoPSUsports.com, with Friday’s game on Big Ten Network.

Notable: Wisconsin earned a victory and the teams tied during their first series this season, Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Madison. … Penn State leads the series, 6-3-1, in games at Pegula Ice Arena. … Penn State is 11-2-0 when scoring first and 14-2-1 when leading after two periods.

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