The MSU hockey team concludes its final homestand of the season this weekend as the Spartans face off against No. 11 Penn State for the second series between the two conference opponents of the 2016-17 campaign.
After the Spartans were swept, losing 5-2 in the first game and 5-3 in the final game of the series in January, Penn State leads the all-time series, 7-6-3.
MSU enters this series still winless at home in 2017 and coming off a weekend sweep by Ohio State University, while the Nittany Lions are also trying to rebound off of a weekend sweep. Last weekend, the Nittany Lions suffered two losses to Minnesota, including one in overtime.
“Penn State’s going through their own ups and downs in the second half of the year,” head coach Tom Anastos said. “I would anticipate that they’ll play very desperate because they’re in the NCAA Tournament mix as it sits right now and lost a pretty emotional game on Saturday night (against Minnesota).”
The Spartans, who will honor their seniors after the end of Saturday’s game, will have a daunting task to complete if they want to send their seniors out on top at Munn Ice Arena.
The Nittany Lions enter this weekend No. 1 in the nation in total team offense with an average of 4.18 goals scored per game and lead the country in shots on goal averaging 46.14.
While the Spartans continue to be led by sophomore forward Mason Appleton with 11 goals and 25 points, freshman forward Denis Smirnov enters Friday's game leading the Nittany Lions in points with 39.
Penn State’s senior captain David Goodwin is looking to continue his career-best eight-game point streak on Friday. He is also tied for No. 10 in the NCAA and third in the Big Ten for career points by active players with 119 points.
Freshman forward Patrick Khodorenko said a key to victory this weekend is to generate more offensive efficiency.
“Try to limit their shots, their scoring opportunities,” Khodorenko said. “We've got to get more offense going. We've got to score a few goals on the power play. And against power plays like Penn State, our (penalty kill) has got to be great offensively. So, those are probably the keys. We've got to just finish. We had a lot of chances, we hit a lot of posts against Penn State last time."
MSU is last in the Big Ten in powerplay percentage, converting just 20 of their 132 man-advantage opportunities. The Spartans also rank second to last in the conference on the penalty kill, as they have killed just 94 of 127 of their penalties. Those ranks are also 45th and 57th in the nation, respectively, for MSU.
Despite the discouraging season and losing record, Anastos spoke highly of his departing seniors.
“Well, it’s a group that has worked really hard,” he said. “I’d like to see them win more games and they’d like to see themselves win more games. I will say this — that one of the key changes or key focal points that we had in trying to establish a foundation here was to have a certain commitment level by all the players, a certain passion to play the game, a certain work ethic that we know we can count on every day. And I would say this group of guys … really established.”
Fifth-year senior defenseman Rhett Holland said Saturday will be an extremely emotional time for him.
“It’s going to be pretty emotional playing my last game at Munn,” Holland said. “I felt like this time would never come, so my takeaway I think is just going to be, I want to be in the moment that night as much as I can — just really enjoy the fans, the student section, the whole atmosphere and really get a take of that so that it’s something I can hold on to forever.”
When reflecting on his career at MSU, Holland said his time playing for the Spartans was likely the best time of his life.
“I think of (my career) pretty highly," Holland said. “It’s probably the best time of my life — something I’ll remember forever, all these moments, all these games, just hanging out with the guys, off-campus experiences, relationships. As a whole, it’s just kind of unfathomable to put into one word or sentence. It’s just a unique experience that I’m glad I had the opportunity to get.”
The Spartans hope to give their seniors one last memorable series at Munn Ice Arena when they take on the Nittany Lions in a two-game series starting Friday at 7 p.m. Friday’s contest can be viewed on the Big Ten Network.