Last weekend, the No. 2 Michigan hockey team went into Munn Ice Arena and quickly silenced the Michigan State crowd, scoring 44 seconds into the first period. This weekend, the Wolverines will have to do the same in their upcoming series against Penn State if it wants the same result.
After sweeping the Spartans, Michigan is headed to State College for what should be two hard-fought matchups. In last season’s series, the Wolverines beat the Nittany Lions in the first game but had trouble in the second, losing, 9-5. Four of the nine goals came from power plays.
Penn State plays best in its own arena, earning a 5-1 home record this season so far. Recently, the Nittany Lions went 0-2 in an away series against Ohio State. Still, their quality isn’t to be underestimated.
“They’re an up-tempo team,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “They like to get after it. … They’ve got some scale and talent. They struggled this past weekend, but they beat a good North Dakota a couple weeks ago.”
Last season was unusually mediocre for Penn State, which finished 10-12. Even through a difficult year, though, Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky led his squad to its sixth consecutive Big Ten Tournament semifinal. The Nittany Lions have come into this season with high expectations, and they’ve delivered.
Two weeks ago, Penn State beat No. 7 North Dakota, 6-4. A team that gets up and down the ice quickly, the Nittany Lions are full of excitement and energy, and after a rough weekend with the Buckeyes, they’ll look to give everything in the matchup against Michigan.
The Wolverines must pay attention to forwards Kevin Wall and Connor MacEachern, who have seven and six goals, respectively. Defenseman Jimmy Dowd Jr. also gives the team an edge, leading the back line with 10 points last season.
Although the Nittany Lions usually rotate netminders, senior goaltender Oskar Autio is likely to get the nod. Autio brings a wealth of experience, recording 143 saves and surrendering just 13 goals so far this season.
An offensive-minded team, the goals come frequently — Penn State scores 3.7 goals per game. The team also shoots the puck a lot: 36.7 times per game on average compared to Michigan’s 32.5. The Wolverines will have to take pride in their defensive zone to block shots and get the puck back up the ice.
At the same time, Michigan is more concerned about its own game than the threat a specific opponent offers. The team has managed all the outside noise so far this season.
“We’re more worried about ourselves and continuing to get better as a team,” sophomore defenseman Owen Power said. “That’s our biggest focus right now.”
After getting swept, Penn State will go full force. The series will be demanding, physical and intense. If the Wolverines go into the game focused on themselves like in away matchups against Western Michigan and Michigan State, they shouldn’t have too much to worry about.
In its first single-opponent away series of the season, Michigan has all the tools to succeed and come back to Ann Arbor with two more wins under its belt.