By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the Penn State men's hockey team, it's time for a fresh start, a clean slate. What the Nittany Lions accomplished earlier this season is no longer of importance. It's time for the Big Ten Tournament, and every team has an even chance. Anything can happen in the playoffs.
The fourth-seeded Nittany Lions (18-14-4, 10-9-1 B1G) will face fifth-seeded Ohio State (13-8-3, 8-11-1 B1G) Thursday. The team's spot in the bracket was finalized following its two losses against Minnesota last weekend; however, those loses are in the past. The Blue and White are only focused on the future.
"Literally two seconds after the game Saturday it was playoff time," head coach Guy Gadowsky. "What happened Friday didn't matter. What happened Saturday didn't matter. In fact, what happened this year didn't matter. I think down the road, a lot of the guys are going to look back at this with incredibly pride on what they accomplished. But as of right now, all they're thinking is it's playoff time."
After such a successful regular season, the team is headed into the tournament with confidence. The Lions know what they are capable of, and it's only a matter of playing their best brand of hockey.
Penn State is not ready for the season to end, and these athletes are going to battle for victories one game at a time and come out strong for this final push.
"You want to leave it all out there," said junior forward Casey Bailey. "You've got seniors that this is their last chance. They came here to play for a program that everybody said was going to lose. To be able to go out there and win and to have that possibility of picking up the Big Ten playoff championship your second season and your third season as a Division I team is a huge accomplishment. It's something we'd love to do."
Gadowsky Named B1G Coach of the Year
In addition to preparing for the tournament, the team had a major accomplishment to take pride in this week as the conference named Gadowsky the Big Ten Coach of the Year.
In just its third season as a Division I program, Gadowsky led the Nittany Lions to a winning record. The team more than doubled its win total from last season, showing how quickly the program has grown.
"It's great for this program," said Gadowsky of the honor. "I mean that award is really for when players exceed expectations. But, I think in this case it goes even further. It's not just about that. I think it's a lot about the atmosphere we have in the building, how well the ticket sales went, just a number of things. This is a program award."
While many questioned the legitimacy of Penn State hockey last season, there were signs that this team would accomplish large feats. The team's first round victory over Michigan in the 2013-14 Big Ten Tournament is merely one of those examples.
With a presence like Gadowsky on the bench, the team is more than capable of continuing its success for years to come.
McAdam Gets the Nod
Sophomore Eamon McAdam will mind the crease for Nittany Lions in the Thursday's first-round matchup. McAdam posted a .911 save percentage during his 11 games played and earned a 5-3-1 record during the regular season.
Furthermore, the sophomore is the Lions' lone goaltender to defeat Ohio State this season. McAdam was in net for the team's 5-1 victory over the Buckeyes, a game in which he made 35 stops.
"We've had a very nice home-ice advantage here at Pegula Ice Arena," said Gadowsky. "This game is not going to be at Pegula, and between the three, [McAdam] has by far the highest winning percentage away from Pegula Ice Arena. That's another reason. He also actually if you look at it both in conference and overall play does have the highest winning percentage, along with highest save percentage.
"I feel that he's actually probably faced the toughest opponents when you look at goals per game. I mean he played Michigan three times. He's played Minnesota. So, when you look at the opponents he's played, that he is our only goaltender that's played more games away than home, he's probably more prepared for this experience."
Scouting the Buckeyes
This season, Penn State fell in three of the four games it played Ohio State. The team was swept when it traveled to Columbus and split the series played in Hockey Valley.
Nevertheless, the Blue and White are not focused on what happened this season, instead preparing mentally and physically for what will happen Thursday at 4:30 p.m.
"It's not like we come in very, very confident and this is how's it's going to go and this is what we have to do," said Gadowksy. "I don't think either coaching staff feels that. But, I certainly give them a ton of credit and Coach Rohlik in terms of the discipline his team here has shown in this stretch. I think they've gone the last ten they've only lost three, last eight they've only lost two. I think their discipline has been a big part of that, and we certainly respect that. But, looking back at the season series between us, you really can't say this is what to expect. This is what we have to do. So, I think it makes it fun."
If the Nittany Lions want to succeed, they will have to find a way to end the Buckeyes' recent success. The team will need to shut down Ohio State's leading scorer Tanner Fritz, who had 26 points in the regular season, and find ways to get the puck by goalie Christian Frey. Frey has played in seven games against Penn State, posting a .936 save percentage and a 2.55 goals allowed average against the Blue and White.
Additionally, the Buckeyes have experience on their side. Although the Nittany Lions advanced to the semifinals in last year's tournament, Ohio State made it to the championship game. The Buckeyes eventually fell to Wisconsin in overtime, but they know what it takes to get to the finals.
"We're going to have to win three games to win the Big Ten, and I think it doesn't really matter who we're playing," Bailey said. "If we play our style of hockey, Penn State hockey, we can beat anybody. As long as we stick to our game, we're not really worried about who we're playing against."
No. 1 Minnesota (12-5-3 B1G)
Points Leader: Mike Reilly, 42 points
Leading Goal Scorer: Kyle Rau, 19 goals
Assists Leader: Mike Reilly, 36 assists
Heading into the tournament, Minnesota is fresh off its sweep of the Nittany Lions and its second-straight Big Ten Conference Title. The Gophers also nabbed all three conference weekly honors, as Hudson Fashing was named First Star, Kyle Rau grabbed the Second Star and Adam Wilcox secured the Third Star. In addition to these honors, Minnesota's Mike Reilly was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the year and a All-Big Ten First Team selection. The No. 1-seeded Gophers will play their first game of the tournament Friday afternoon, taking on the winner of the Penn State/Ohio State matchup.
No. 2 Michigan State (11-7-2 B1G)
Points Leader: Matt Berry, 28 points
Leading Goal Scorer: Michael Ferrantino, 12 goals
Assists Leader: Matt Berry, 17 assists
Like Minnesota, the second-seed Spartans earned a bye in the first round of the tournament. They secured their spot in the bracket with a split last weekend against Michigan. Michigan State has won four of its last five games, all of which were backstopped by goaltender Jake Hildebrand. This week, Hildebrand was named the Big Ten Player of the Year, Big Ten Goaltender of the Year and an All-Big Ten First Team selection. He has played in all 34 games for the Spartans and leads the league with a .930 save percentage and a 2.12 goals allowed average.
No. 3 Michigan (12-8-0 B1G)
Points Leader: Zach Hyman, 49 points
Leading Goal Scorer: Zach Hyman, 19 goals
Assists Leader: Zach Hyman, 30 assists
Splitting its final series of the season, Michigan earned the No. 3 seed in the tournament for the second consecutive year. The Wolverines had a bit of a messy end to the season, falling in three of their final four. However, with numerous offense weapons, such as Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Dylan Larkin, and the Big Ten Scoring Champion, Zach Hyman, this team is sure to bounce back. Michigan will take on Wisconsin Friday night at 8 p.m.
No. 4 Penn State (10-9-1 B1G)
Points Leader: Casey Bailey, 40 points
Leading Goal Scorer: Casey Bailey, 22 goals
Assists Leader: Taylor Holstrom, 26 assists
The Nittany Lions had a disappointing end to the regular season, falling to Minnesota last Friday and Saturday. Nevertheless, the Lions are moving ahead, getting ready to face Ohio State. The team will look to its points and goals leader, Bailey, on Thursday. The junior has four goals and an assist against the Buckeyes this year. This week, Bailey was named an All-Big Ten First Team selection, and freshman Scott Conway was named an All-Big Ten Freshman selection. Bailey, Conway and the rest of the Lions will take the ice Thursday at 4:30 p.m.
No. 5 Ohio State (8-11-1 B1G)
Points Leader: Tanner Fritz, 26 points
Leading Goal Scorer: Anthony Greco, 15 goals
Assists Leader: Tanner Fritz, 15 assists
The Buckeyes ended their season in Madison, taking five of the six possible Big Ten points against Wisconsin. Now, they will face Penn State, a team they swept at the end of February. Furthermore, Ohio State has only lost three of its last ten games, which gives them confidence moving into the postseason. Following the end of the regular season, Matthew Weis was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman team. The Buckeyes are set to play the Nittany Lions Thursday afternoon at 4:30 p.m.
No. 6 Wisconsin (2-15-3 B1G)
Points Leader: Grant Besse, 22 points
Leading Goal Scorer: Grant Besse, 11 goals
Assists Leader: Joseph LaBate, 12 assists
The Badgers are coming off of a tough season. Having only won four total games, two of which were conference matchups, the team is certainly entering the Big Ten Tournament as the underdog. However, Wisconsin has huge potential and it has shown glimpses of that throughout the year. The team took down then-No. 5 Michigan Tech in January and tied then-No. 2 Boston University the following week. They can play and keep up with the best in the country when it is least expected. The Badgers will take the ice Thursday at 8.pm. to face Michigan.