After four games at home, the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team (4-2) will travel to University Park to open Big Ten play against the No. 12 ranked Penn State Nittany Lions (4-1) this Thursday and Friday.
Wisconsin has started out the season red hot, and will look to keep that momentum going into their first conference matchup. After sweeping two-time defending national champions Minnesota Duluth, the Badgers thrust themselves into the national spotlight and a top-six ranking.
Since splitting a series with the No. 11 Clarkson Golden Knights last weekend, UW has fallen a spot down to No. 7. Now they get another chance to solidify themselves as one of the best teams in college hockey against a tough Nittany Lions squad.
Last season, the teams faced off a total of seven times, five of which came in Pennsylvania.
Penn State ended up winning the season series 4—3, with three of those games going to overtime.
But this isn’t the same Badger hockey team, and as you know if you’ve been following, this new roster is littered with freshmen ready to make an impact.
Freshman forward Owen Lindmark sent the Golden Knights home packing with the game-winner last week with 6.1 ticks left. Sensation Cole Caufield got his seventh goal in just six games, which leads the country.
No. 5 NHL Draft pick Alex Turcotte may not be putting up those same flashy numbers, but not many are, and it’s easy to see his impact on the offensive end with eight points early on. The future Los Angeles King is dangerous when he’s got the puck because of how well he can feed others.
Wisconsin’s defense is no slouch either, with fellow sophomore draft picks K’Andre Miller and Wyatt Kalynuk making major impacts.
However, the Badgers need to watch out for the speed of the Nittany Lions as the game opens. In the opening 20 minutes of play of their first five games, PSU is outscoring opponents 8–1.
When they get that lead, they don’t often give it up either, winning all four of the games they’ve scored first in.
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On the offensive end, Penn State is the only D1 school who has three 100-point career scorers with Brandon Biro, Denis Smirnov and Nate Sucese. They’re all seniors, something that may play to the Lions’ advantage compared to Wisconsin’s young guns.
Don’t expect Wisconsin to run away early either, as Nittany Lion goaltender Peyton Jones leads the nation in career wins and his 94.2% save percentage puts him at sixth in the nation.
They haven’t played super tough competition yet — the Badgers are their first ranked opponent — but that experience becomes a factor down the stretch in big games like this.
Thursday and Friday are set to be epic conference showdowns. Watch for Wisconsin to attempt to sit back early and capitalize on breakaways. Their youth doesn’t necessarily pose an advantage for them here, so they’re best off playing it smart when the puck drops.
You can catch the games live on the Big Ten Network, 6 p.m. Thursday and 5 p.m. Friday. It can also, as always, be heard on WIBA.