Penn State Hockey

Penn State hockey: Nittany Lions feeling confident, ready for Michigan in Big Ten tournament

It’s a play that brings happy thoughts to Penn State hockey fans and players, but especially David Goodwin.

In the last minute of overtime, Michigan was passing the puck around the Penn State zone when the puck jumped over the stick of a Wolverine and bounced across the blue line.

Goodwin raced past everyone, scooped up the puck and shot down the ice on a breakaway to score the game-winning goal — the first overtime and Big Ten road win of the season, and the second win over Michigan in a 14-day span.

“I think about it a little bit,” said Goodwin, who got to relive the moment Tuesday afternoon when the team watched game videos in preparation for the Big Ten Tournament, and the highlight was among the scenes everyone watched.

It was appropriate to watch highlights of a win over the Wolverines. The teams will meet again at 3 p.m. Thursday in Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., in the first round of the conference tournament.

“I think about it,” Goodwin said of that game-winning goal. “Obviously going into this weekend it will be something in the forefront of my mind.”

While the program may have tons of history, Penn State should feel pretty comfortable facing Michigan. The Nittany Lions only won three Big Ten games all season, but two were against the Wolverines.

“As a team it gives us a lot of confidence,” said Goodwin, who has seven goals and 10 assists this season. “We’re (2-2) with them. For the first year in the league against Michigan — Michigan has more national championships than we have games played.”

The freshman winger may have been exaggerating a little — the Wolverines have nine NCAA titles — but Penn State will nonetheless know a winning recipe.

It means there is little room for error for Michigan in the single-elimination tournament in which three wins in three days brings an automatic bid to the NCAA’s 16-team tournament.

“We know that Penn State can beat anyone on a given night,” Michigan coach Red Barenson said. “They have nothing to lose and certainly we have a lot of respect for them with the way they played against us in all four of the games. They’re a team to fear going into a format like this and we have a lot of respect for them.”

But it really isn’t just against the Wolverines that the Nittany Lions should be feeling confident. The second half of the conference schedule has shown they are a team that should not be overlooked.

Penn State began the Big Ten season 0-9, getting outscored 42-18. But starting with the first conference win, 4-0 against the Wolverines at Pegula Ice Arena on Feb. 8, the Nittany Lions have been outscored just 33-28 while showing a 3-7-1 record. Three of their games were taken to overtime.

“We’re greatly improved and we know it,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “It’s not success against one team, but it’s our overall improvement that gives our guys confidence.”

Gadowsky was optimistic Tuesday his team could run the table this weekend and getting that NCAA bid. To do so they would have to beat not only the Wolverines on Thursday, but second-seeded Wisconsin on Friday in the semifinals and whoever is waiting in Saturday night’s title game – more than likely No. 1 Minnesota in an arena just a few miles from the Golden Gophers’ campus.

While the Nittany Lions have played games in big NHL arenas already this year none of those games had the kind of pressure that will be riding on this weekend’s games.

“This is our biggest stage this year,” said Matthew Skoff, who will be starting in goal Thursday. “That being said, you can’t look at it like that. You’ve got to take it as just another game. It’s still going to be 60 minutes, we’re still going to play Michigan, it’s going to be like we’ve played them before.”

The Wolverines may have been hurting a little after those two losses to the Nittany Lions last month, but they have bounced back, beating the Gophers on Saturday after losing to them in overtime the night before.

Michigan has a balanced offense, with five players in double figures in goal-scoring, led by Andrew Copp’s 15 goals, while Big Ten Freshman of the Year JT Compher has 11 goals and 20 assists.

In contrast, Penn State has just one goal-scorer in double digits: Eric Scheid has 11 goals and nine assists.

Gadowsky is hoping he has found the right combinations to get enough scoring for this weekend. Aside from injury issues, the lineups have not changed much in the last few weeks and some lines have been remaining together for a while.

“They’ve basically had a tryout all year to have the opportunity to play in the playoffs,” Gadowsky said. “A lot of it isn’t just what you can do in one game, a lot of it is to make sure we as a staff and your teammates believe you’re going to get it done because of the consistency you show.”

It is the culmination of what Gadowsky and the entire program has been building since the season began last October. There have been a lot of difficulties along the way, but it will all be worth it if they can prove their mettle this weekend.

Much like a tough class somewhere on campus, the Nittany Lions may be showing a low grade, but a lot of weight is carried by this weekend’s test.

“We’re very, very happy with where we’ve gone,” Gadowsky said. “… Thursday, that doesn’t matter. We all take this final exam together and it’s graded on pass-fail.”

Goodwin will be ready. He just needs to think about a brilliant burst down the ice 27 days ago.

“It gives me a lot of confidence,” Goodwin said. “I know I can have success against them, I know I can produce against them. There’s a lot of things about Michigan that I like to play against.”