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Where is Penn State Hockey Heading into the B1G Tournament?

The Nittany Lions are looking to find their former selves heading into B1G Tournament play.

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Penn State Hockey
Mar 14, 2021; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Penn State's Oskar Autio (35) makes a stop against Notre Dame at the Compton Family Ice Arena. Mandatory Credit: Michael Caterina/South Bend Tribune-USA TODAY NETWORK

Penn State hockey’s regular season came to end with a thud on Saturday night with a 2-1 loss to bottom-dweller Wisconsin. It was the latest in a string of concerning and inconsistent performances since the calendar flipped to 2023. 

Penn State Hockey: A Tale of Two Halves

“The past month of hockey hasn’t been indicative of the team we were,” senior captain Paul DeNaples said.

He couldn’t be more spot on. The Nittany Lions (20-13-1, 10-13-1 Big Ten) 2022-23 season will be remembered as a tale of two halves. The season started with Penn State racing out to a 9-0-0 record, the best in program history.

They became the first-ever team to beat two separate No. 1 ranked teams in back-to-back weeks in NCAA ice hockey history. They were seemingly never out of a game, launching many multiple-goal comebacks to steal games. They couldn’t lose.

But once the second half of the season kicked off, it was a different Penn State team. The Lions ended the season on a dismal 3-8-1 run since January 1.

Problems from previous years that seemingly vanished in the first half had returned. Goaltending regressed to be inconsistent at best while scoring depth dried up. Instead of having multi-goal comebacks, the team blew multi-goal leads. They couldn’t win.

On the Road Again

Penn State’s strong start to the year had padded the impact of the poor second half. Until Saturday night. The consequences of the second half finally caught up to the team when they lost home-ice advantage in the Big Ten Tournament.

Even for all their recent shortcomings, home ice was handed to the Nittany Lions on a silver platter. They just needed to collect at least four points against the Badgers (13-21-0, 6-18-0 Big Ten), a team that hadn’t won a road Big Ten series since October 30, 2021. They couldn’t do it.

As a result, the team will hit the road and head to Columbus, Ohio, for a best-of-3 series against Ohio State this weekend. This is a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal, in which the Lions won in three games. They became the first-ever road team to win in the Big Ten Tournament since the format changed to campus sites six years ago.

Coach Guy Gadowsky doesn’t want to think about last year, however.

“It’s a different year,” he said. “We are drawing [on experience] from this year. We’re an excellent team.”

What’s on the Line this Weekend?

Truth be told, the Nittany Lions won’t have to win a single game against Ohio State (18-13-3, 11-11-2 Big Ten) to get to the dance. They still have a lofty pairwise ranking due to those big early wins. Even if they were to get swept by Ohio State, their spot in the Allentown Regional of the NCAA tournament is assured.

With that said, Penn State is going to have to make a lot of changes to its game to look more like its October and November selves. Otherwise, their trip to the Big Ten–and NCAA–tournaments is going to be a short one. 

If there is any consolation for Penn State fans, Coach Guy Gadowsky’s teams have shown up to the playoffs dead on arrival many times before–only to go on a magical run when the lights are the brightest. 

Jaret is a Penn State alum who covers Penn State sports for Basic Blues Nation. He is very passionate about the Nittany Lions and loves sharing his passion for the school through writing.

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