Rested Penn State slides into NCAA men’s hockey tournament for first time since 2018

·3 min read
Abby Drey/Centre Daily TImes, file

It’s one-and-done time for the Penn State men’s hockey team, and 19 days removed from its last game the team thinks the break was helpful.

After losing in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on March 5, the 11th-ranked Nittany Lions had plenty of time to prepare and recover for their first NCAA Tournament since 2018. They meet No. 13 Michigan Tech at 5 p.m. Friday at the PPL Center in Allentown.

Coach Guy Gadowsky said Penn State’s team leaders have been instrumental.

“I’d like to think they turned it into a positive,” he said. “I think we’re a better team than we were two weeks ago. I think the way the guys have approached it will give us an advantage from where we were.”

Penn State, which has gone 4-10-1 since January, might’ve needed a break more than any team in college hockey.

It’s one of four teams from the Big Ten Conference to reach the NCAA Tournament. The Penn State-Michigan Tech winner could draw No. 4 Michigan in the second round in Allentown if the Wolverines get past Colgate as expected in the nightcap Friday.

No. 1 Minnesota, which dropped the conference championship game to Michigan, and No. 8 Ohio State also earned spots in the 16-team tournament.

Gadowsky said the rigors of the conference schedule, and Michigan Tech’s proven success — this is the second year in a row the Huskies have earned an at-large berth — have Penn State focused.

“We have the approach that no matter who you’re playing they’re going to be a great team. I don’t think we approach it much different whether it’s a team we play a lot or not,” Gadowksy said. “We’re not going to dissect every little thing they do and try to make a specific game plan for them. We feel very strongly about a specific game plan for us.”

Penn State will certainly focus on a plan to put the puck in the next — especially against one of the nation’s best goaltenders.

Specifically, senior Blake Pietila broke Michigan Tech records for shutouts in a season (10) and career (20) while becoming the school’s all-time wins leader with 58 this season. He shares that mark with Bruce Horsch, who played from 1974 to 1978.

Pietila, who went 23-10-3 in 36 games, leads the nation in shutouts and ranks second with 23 wins, third in third in save percentage (.929) and fifth in goals-against average (1.99).

Michigan Tech played one Big Ten team this season, defeating Michigan State, 3-2, in a neutral site matchup at the Great Lakes Invitational in late December. Penn State went 1-2-1 vs. MSU this season.

Against other common opponents, Michigan Tech went 5-1 vs. conference rival St. Thomas and 2-0 against Alaska-Fairbanks. Penn State was 2-0 against both those teams.

NCAA Tournament

No. 11 Penn State (21-15-1) vs. No. 13 Michigan Tech (24-10-4)

When: 5 p.m. Friday

Where: PPL Center, Allentown

Radio/TV: ESPNU (Clay Matvick, Sean Ritchlin) (Brian Tripp, Eric Ohlson)

Notable: This is the teams’ first meeting. … Michigan Tech, located in Houghton, Mich., has an enrollment of 7,009 students. … Michigan Tech’s team leaders include junior forward Ryland Mosley (31 points) and freshman forward Kyle Kukkonen (18 goals). … Senior forward Kevin Wall leads Penn State in those categories with 29 and 16, respectively.