It’s won-or-done time for the Penn State men’s hockey team.
A matchup against Ohio State in a Big Ten tournament semifinal Sunday afternoon either extends the season another game or sends the Nittany Lions home from Columbus, Ohio, with an arguably successful campaign short of the goal of a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Penn State has been in this must-win situation before and responded well.
Just a week ago, after losing the opening game of a best-of-three quarterfinal series against Wisconsin at Pegula Ice Arena, the Nittany Lions won the final two games of the series, needing overtime in the third, to advance.
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Penn State displayed valuable discipline and focus in the series against the Badgers, overcoming a one-game suspension for standout center Evan Barratt, rallying from deficits and surviving a generally grueling series.
“I’m hoping that maybe we learned something the last time against Ohio State, and that was something that played a factor in what we did last weekend,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “We weren’t a very mentally tough team on that weekend (in January with two losses against Ohio State). We can learn from that, and we can take a lot from that experience. We’ll certainly remind them of both ends of the spectrum.”
In terms of game plan, Penn State looked closely at its most recent series against the Buckeyes — 4-1 and 6-4 losses at home — and at OSU’s season-ending series against Michigan State, which the two teams split.
Ohio State limped to the finish overall, going 1-4-1 in its final three series.
So, Penn State has reason for hope — along with some of the conference’s top scoring threats and a goaltender who has been better in the tournament than the regular season.
Penn State will be without injured forward Blake Gober, but its offensive productivity has been balanced in recent weeks, with Denis Smirnov contributing more as the regular season ended while the top line of Alex Limoges, Barratt and Liam Folkes produced eight goals (including Folkes’ OT winner in the final game) and 11 assists against Wisconsin.
“As a group they seem to have a synergy together,” Gadowsky said.
Goaltender Peyton Jones also seems to thrive in the tournament.
“He has a very good ability to stay calm in frantic situations,” Gadowsky said.
Jones has a 7-2 record with a 2.78 goals-against average the past three seasons in the tournament. He’s won 78 percent of his tournament games, compared to 61 percent this past regular season. He allowed 3.41 goals during the regular season.
“You gotta win,” Jones said. “I don’t change things just because it’s Ohio State or anyone else. I just want to go out there and stop the puck.”
No. 17 Penn State (21-14-2) at No. 6 Ohio State (20-9-5)
Big Ten Tournament Semifinal
Single Game: 3:30 p.m. Sunday
Radio/TV: Watch on the Big Ten Network or listen on 103.1 FM and GoPSUsports.com
Notable: Ohio State controlled the regular season series, 3-1. … OSU’s two goalies, Tommy Nappier (1.78) and Sean Romeo (2.58), rank first and third, respectively, in goals against average in conference play. … OSU leads the conference in team defense, allowing 2.24 goals per game. … Penn State leads in the Big Ten team offense (4.59). … Penn State is 18-0-1 this season when holding opponents to three goals or less.