By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - The regular season has come to a close, and now it's crunch time. Every play counts, and the Nittany Lions are getting into peak shape for the upcoming CHA tournament.
The single elimination format can be tricky for some, but the Nittany Lions are used to pressure and taking things one game at a time. It's something they've been doing all season and it doesn't change now.
"Preparation is no different, I think it's always important to keep everything familiar," interim head coach Dean Jackson said. "We're just doing what we do on a day-to-day basis."
There is, however, a bit more swagger in the locker room considering the team had a strong showing the last two weeks against Robert Morris and Syracuse, the top two teams in the conference. Every game matters, and it's almost like a fresh start for this team that has battled back from its share of adversity.
"It's exciting. It keeps everyone upbeat and keeps everyone focused," Jackson said. "Everyone knows at this point of the season, it's a do-or-die mentality and it's amazing how teams really rise to the occasion when it's that circumstance."
Penn State finished conference play with 18 points, earning the No. 4 seed in the tournament. They will take on No. 5 RIT in the first round on Thursday, a team they have had some success against this season.
The Nittany Lions swept RIT early on the road before earning a win and a tie at Pegula Ice Arena. In the tie, Penn State trailed by four goals in the third period before mounting a serious rally to force overtime and eventually a draw.
"When we played them up there [at RIT], we played a real solid weekend, we played some really good hockey," Jackson said. "In the second half when we saw them, we played really well in the first game. In the second game, they got out on us early but it was tremendous to see us bounce back and score four goals in 20 minutes."
With a win over RIT, the Nittany Lions would face No. 1 Robert Morris or No. 2 Syracuse in the semifinals, No. 3 Mercyhurst and No. 6 Lindenwood round out the bracket.
This year's tournament will once again be held at the HARBORCENTER in Buffalo, the site of last year's CHA tournament as well. The Nittany Lions reached the semifinals of that event, losing in heartbreaking fashion to Syracuse in triple-overtime.
"That's important, it's familiar," Jackson said. "When you start getting into venues where there's no experience there, we don't know what it's like. It takes a settling in period, trying to get acclimated. Fortunately, we've been up there before, so there's no real curveballs being thrown at us in the facility."
Puck drop is set for Thursday at 7:30 p.m. against RIT. Should the Nittany Lions win, their second game will be some time Friday afternoon against Robert Morris, with a berth in Saturday's championship game at stake. The winner of the tournament will receive the CHA's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, which begins the following week.