Michigan State hockey (8-3-1, 4-1-1 Big Ten), coming off a four-game win streak, heads out east this weekend for a series versus No. 6 Penn State (10-2-0, 4-2-0 Big Ten).
The collegiate hockey world is starting to take notice of first-year Head Coach Adam Nightingale and crew, as the Spartans ranked No. 17 in this week’s USCHO poll, the first time the team has placed in the poll in two years.
MSU ended back-to-back homestand series last weekend with a sweep over then No. 10 Ohio State. The Buckeyes fell two spots to No. 12 this week after the losses.
“We knew coming in Ohio State was a top 10 team,” Nightingale said on Monday. “The first period on Thursday, I thought Ohio State was a better team, thought we were on our heels a little bit, but what I like about the group is no one panics. … I thought we were really good the rest of the game and … I thought we were even better on Friday.”
Following his performance against the Buckeyes last week, consisting of a pair of goals and assists, senior forward Nicolas Müller was named the Big Ten First Star of the Week.
“It feels really good, but I'm more happy about the two wins, about the streak we’re on,” Müller said. “Just having fun practicing, just getting better and the team's success is so much more fun.”
Regarding his team being ranked after the OSU sweep, Müller said it doesn’t mean much right now, neither do win or loss streaks.
“It doesn't matter right now, it matters at the end of the season,” Müller said. “It's definitely fun to be ranked, but it's no big deal. We just got to keep going and win some more games.”
The Spartans are 6-0 when leading after the first two periods, playing some of their best hockey during the third period.
Freshman forward Daniel Russell said that statistic can be attributed to the work the team did during the summer, as well as the time it spends together off the ice.
“We're in really good shape as a team, so we're able to kind of beat teams in the third period,” Russell said.
Russell leads the team in scoring with 15 points, ranking third in the Big Ten, for his 11 assists and four goals. One of those 11 assists came during the series versus Ohio State.
“My linemates are really a big part of that, us playing together and playing as a team and having chemistry,” Russell said. “I wasn't really expecting (to lead in points) coming in.”
Scouting the Nittany Lions
Penn State is coming off a split series with No. 2 Minnesota, where it won the first game 4-2 and lost the second 3-1.
The Spartans are 14-20-4 all-time against the Nittany Lions and 4-11-3 at Pegula Ice Arena. The teams faced off last season in two separate series, in which they split wins 2-2.
PSU currently trails MSU for most points in the Big Ten by one with 13.
Senior forwards Ture Linden and Connor McMenamin lead Penn State with 11 points respectively so far this season. Linden has recorded seven assists and four goals, while McMenamin has eight assists and three goals.
As for shot percentage, The Nittany Lions hold a .098, while the Spartans trail with a rate of .093. PSU also averages 4.0 goals per game and is 4-34 on the power play, while MSU averages 3.25 with a 10-49 goal-power play rate.
MSU will need to be conscientious of penalties as it ranks fifth in the conference, averaging 11.25 minutes per game, while PSU averages 7.08 penalty minutes per game, the least in the Big Ten.
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“Their rink is a tough rink to play in, it’s a momentum rink,” Nightingale said. “They’re a shot volume, put you on your heels team, and they can create a lot of chaos, and you throw it in there in their home rink – that'll be really huge for us as how we manage those moments because they will push and they're good in transition. And obviously they’re a confident team, knocked off a couple of really good teams. I'm super excited because I think this is when you really find out what your group's about.”
Game times are set for Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with the series streaming on BTN+.
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