The Penn State men’s hockey team has already walked into one historic college hockey palace and carried away a victory.
There will be no intimidating these Nittany Lions.
One week after earning a win over No. 10 Michigan at Yost Ice Arena, they will hit the ice at Mariucci Arena for a two-game series Friday and Saturday against No. 2 Minnesota.
“We’re probably going to experience some of the same up in Minnesota,” defenseman Connor Varley said. “Kind of just sticking to our game plan, staying mentally tough.”
The games start at 9 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. the next night.
Penn State has been riding some good feelings the last few weeks, scoring two wins against the Wolverines with one coming at home, and earning a tie and tight loss with Michigan State. Not long before that there was a close loss to now-No. 1 Boston College and two tight battles with the Golden Gophers at Pegula Ice Arena.
But the team knows it will have its hands full if it wants to steal a game from the Gophers in their building.
“I imagine this will be the steepest learning curve we have,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “It’s been really fun. As a coaching staff we’d really like to continue going, and every experience you get on the road, playing in tough buildings, is a good one and a growing one and I’ll actually miss that.”
This weekend will mark the final true road series of the season that has seen so much growth for the program, but the Nittany Lions could not pick a better time to experience the “steepest learning curve.”
“We have to play like we did the first night against Michigan,” freshman forward David Goodwin said. “(We have to) come out flying, come out really confident, a lot of fire in our bellies and just know that we can play with them. When they were in our barn, we played with them every minute of both games.”
When the team traveled to Ann Arbor last weekend, Gadowsky and the coaches made a point of not talking about the deep history of the building in which they would be playing. The players got to see all the historical markers, but there was a conscious effort not to draw attention to it.
“That is one of the things that is so cool, being able to play in Yost,” Goodwin said. “We joked that is the college hockey cathedral. It really is. That place is incredible. It was great getting a win there, and it’s going to prepare us for not only for this upcoming weekend at Mariucci, for all the away games we have in the next four years of our careers.”
Instead of worrying about the intimidation factor of last week’s venue, Gadowsky put the focus internally and tried to have the team block out the passionate Wolverine fans.
“We have to stay within our game,” Gadowsky said. “It’s another incredibly tough place to play, against an incredible team. We’re talking about the very best of the best.”
Gadowsky’s team will be meeting a Gopher offense ranked fourth in the nation averaging 3.53 goals per game, allowing a nation-best 1.97 points per night and had been ranked No. 1 most of the season until being swept by Wisconsin a few weeks ago.
The Nittany Lions are savoring the chance to take a crack at that team.
“It will be very similar to the atmosphere we had there at Yost,” said sophomore forward Casey Bailey, who has recorded six points in the last seven games. “It’s a very historic program and it’s a great facility and a chance to play in. I think we’re all excited and we’re ready for a chance.”