David Goodwin can still visualize the play, fresh in his memory despite it being more than two years ago.
The puck jumps over the stick of Michigan defenseman Mac Bennett near the blue line, and Goodwin picks it up in the neutral zone, racing down the ice. He glances at teammate Zach Saar in a 2 on 1 break, then fires it into the net for the game-winning goal with less than a minute left in overtime at Yost Ice Arena.
It was Penn State’s first road Big Ten hockey win in program history, and the second over the powerful Wolverines in a 14-day span.
“When I’m thinking forward to Friday night, and I’m visualizing my past experiences, obviously I’m able to think about good times I’ve had individually,” Goodwin said earlier this week. “I go in there with a lot of confidence, but definitely a lot of excitement. I want to recreate some of those memories I’ve had in the past.”
Goodwin and the No. 14 Nittany Lions (20-10-4) will be trying to recapture that magic and visualize two wins this weekend in the old arena in Ann Arbor. They meet No. 9 Michigan (20-7-5) at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the final games of the regular season.
Much is at stake when they hit the ice.
Michigan is in second place in the Big Ten standings but has a chance to catch leader Minnesota, which is four points ahead. Penn State is in third, three points behind the Wolverines. The top two teams pick up byes in next week’s conference tournament.
A win, or two, also would look good on the Nittany Lions’ resume as it seeks a bid for the 16-team NCAA tournament. They are on the bubble for an at-large bid, should they not win the conference tournament.
“We know that if we can beat them both games, that’s it,” Goodwin said. “We know … we should be good nationally and should be good in the Big Ten. Hopefully that will help guys focus on what’s at hand, because what’s at hand is also kind of the big picture.”
The game is loaded with scoring potential, pitting two of the nations’ highest scoring teams against each other. Michigan leads Division I with 4.72 goals per game, while Penn State is fifth at 3.85 per outing.
Leading the powerful Wolverine offense is their top line of Kyle Connor, Tyler Motte and J.T. Compher. All of them are among the top five in the nation in scoring. Connor leads all of Division I with his 26 goals and 31 assists for 57 points, and Motte’s 29 goals are best in the nation.
Their abilities are pretty fresh in the Nittany Lions’ minds. The trio broke loose in a pair of Michigan wins at the end of January, combining for eight goals and nine assists.
“They have a very skilled and effective first line, and second and third line as well,” Goodwin said. “For us, we just focus on our game and playing the best we can and doing the things we do.”
Penn State may be catching Michigan at the right time. The Wolverines are on a three-game losing streak.
Not only will a successful weekend give the Nittany Lions a better Big Ten tournament bid and potential life in the NCAA bracket, but it will also give them momentum.
They are coming off a bad loss at Wisconsin last weekend, as the Badgers captured just their second Big Ten win all season. However, the Lions outshot Wisconsin 21-2 in the third period, and nearly rallied from a 4-1 deficit in a 4-3 loss.
Coach Guy Gadowsky is hoping the team he saw on the ice in the third period is around for six periods this weekend.
“Going into Friday night, you want to play your very best game because you want to be going in an upward trajectory going into the playoffs,” Gadowsky said. “That Friday night is just as important whether you’re a lock for the NCAAs and a Big Ten bye, or you’re fighting your way in it, or … if you don’t have any chance of getting a bye or NCAA (automatic) bid. You still want to play your best game.”
It also would give Goodwin and the Nittany Lions more happy memories of a trip to Michigan.
“As a team I think everyone knows that we can beat them,” said the junior and the program’s all-time scoring leader, “just because we have in the past in that building.”
Men’s ice hockey
Who: No. 14 Nittany Lions (20-10-4) at No. 9 Michigan (20-7-5)
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday
Where: Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Radio: WAPY 103.1
Scoring leaders: PSU — David Goodwin (11 goals, 22 assists), Andrew Sturtz (17 G, 9 A), Chase Berger (13 G, 12 A), Eric Scheid (10 G, 14 A); UM — Kyle Connor (26 G, 31 A), JT Compher (12 G, 37 A), Tyler Motte (29 G, 19 A), Alex Kile (15 G, 15 A).