There is one men’s Division I hockey game tonight as Michigan travels to State College to take on Penn State at 6:30 EST in a game that can be seen on ESPNU.
Most of the intrigue nationally in this series will be on Penn State. The Nittany Lions come into the series with an 11-1-1 record and ranked third overall in the Pairwise Rankings.
But despite the calendar already flipping over into December, we still know surprisingly little about them. Their last eight wins came in home series sweeps against the following teams(with national RPI, out of 60): Arizona State(54), Alaska-Anchorage(60), Niagara(58), and Canisius(45). Add in a road win against Mercyhurst(52) and that’s nine of their 11 wins.
The only real data points we have on Penn State are an admittedly impressive win-and-tie at Notre Dame(13) and a home split against a decent St. Lawrence(17) team, with both series coming in the opening two weeks of the season.
That’s not to say Penn State is bad, it’s just to say that we don’t really know yet. Each of the past two seasons, Penn State has closed out their first half in position to make a run at their first NCAA Tournament bid, thanks in part to racking up a lot of wins against Atlantic Hockey teams they schedule out of geographic convenience.
This year, their record is much better, but as noted above, their schedule is also much weaker, meaning there is potential to drop quickly if they don’t maintain such a high winning percentage.
That quest to prove they’re for real and earn their first NCAA tournament starts tonight against Michigan. Michigan is the opposite of Penn State in that we’ve got a pretty solid understanding of what they are as a team at this point. They’re a half-game above .500 in winning percentage and sit exactly in the middle of the rankings, ranked 30th in RPI. They split series against middle-of-the-pack teams Union and Michigan Tech, and canceled out an impressive home split against BU with a meh home split against Lake Superior State. Barring a major change, they pretty much are what they are at this point.
It’s also worth noticing the huge style and statistical disparity between the two teams so far. This year’s Michigan team is a far cry from the firewagon offensive juggernauts we’re used to seeing in the past. The Wolverines have been one of the worst Corsi teams in college hockey this year, relying on conservative defense and good goaltending to make up that difference in possession and steal games. Penn State on the other hand is one of college hockey’s best Corsi teams, thanks in part to the fact that they’ll shoot the puck from anywhere, and just as important, are pretty good at then retrieving it. The Nittany Lions average 11 shots on goal per game more than the next-highest team in that category.
Penn State doesn’t necessarily need to sweep Michigan this weekend, but Michigan is a team they probably should sweep on home ice.