The thing about walking into Pegula Ice Arena is that even when it’s empty, it’s intimidating.
And that’s not necessarily because of its looks — at just four years old, it’s full of bright lights and shiny floors. The part that is intimidating is the bowl — steep and crowded around the rink — making it anxiety-inducing for those who might not like heights. And that’s just before the game starts.
For 10 of the 11 freshmen on the No. 20 Michigan hockey team, Thursday and Friday’s games will be their first time playing in No. 7 Penn State’s arena. And with the student section — nicknamed the “Roar Zone” — situated directly behind the goaltender’s net on one end of the rink, this could prove to be a bit of an eye-opener.
“It’ll be my fourth year playing here, and I’d say it’s definitely one of my favorite rinks to go to,” said senior defenseman Nolan De Jong. “It’s obviously very new and the facilities are nice, but I think the atmosphere is the best part about it. When tomorrow comes around, I think their student section is going to give us a hard time, which I like. One of the reasons you play college hockey is to have that kind of atmosphere in the rink.
“I think it’s going to be fun for the freshmen. We told them it’s not going to be an easy rink to play in, but it’s going to be one you’re excited to play in. We just have to make sure we’re ready to go.”
The Wolverines, who boast a 6-5-1 overall record, will be kicking off Big Ten play in this arena against the Nittany Lions, who have garnered an 11-1-1 record. So far this season, Penn State’s lethal offense has almost doubled Michigan’s goal total (62-33) and has scored more than anyone else in the nation. On average, the Nittany Lions score 4.77 goals per game. They have also taken twice as many shots as the Wolverines, with 618 compared to Michigan’s 304.
Senior David Goodwin has made history for the Nittany Lions as one of 12 active players in the nation to reach 100 career points, with 103. Freshman Denis Smirnov is also an offensive powerhouse, averaging 1.60 points per game so far during his career.
“They’re going to do the same thing they’ve done the last four years, I think,” De Jong said. “They’re going to put a lot of pucks on the net, they’re going to put a lot of bodies on our defense. They’re more of a skilled group, they’re better with the puck than they were last year. We definitely can’t have as many breakdowns as we have had in the last few games, because they’ll make you pay.”
The Nittany Lions have scored more goals, taken more shots and tallied more assists. It’s no doubt the Wolverines will face an uphill battle — but they also have higher percentages in penalty kills and power plays, and they have allowed the same number of goals as Penn State, with 26. Michigan will need to focus on defense and play to its strengths if it wants to do well against the Nittany Lions.
“We’ve had some drills we think are going to be helpful, but still when you get in the game, you’ve got to be able to play the game the right way,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “That’s our job between now and then, is just get ready to think about the game, think about what’s going to happen and then be ready for it.”