Despite Penn State’s winless record in the maiden season of the Big Ten’s hockey conference, the Nittany Lions have Ohio State’s attention.
That was assured on Dec. 29, 2012, when Penn State, in its first season as a varsity sport, beat the Buckeyes 5-4 in a nonconference game at the Three Rivers Classic at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
Now, the teams meet for the first time as league foes Friday (7:05 p.m. ET.) and Saturday (2 p.m., ESPNews) in Value City Arena.
“We’ve got to look at it as redeeming yourself for last year,” OSU junior defenseman Justin DaSilva said. “(We) definitely keep it in the back of our minds to give us that little extra drive.”
Penn State competed as an independent last season but still beat future conference foes Michigan State and Wisconsin in addition to the Buckeyes.
The Nittany Lions (4-15-1 overall, 0-6-0-0 Big Ten) have found wins tougher to come by in their second season but OSU coach Steve Rohlik said their record is misleading.
“They work extremely hard,” he said. “They’re well coached. Guy (Gadowsky) does a great job. We’ve really got to be prepared and be ready for them.”
Ohio State freshman forward Nick Schilkey knows something else about Penn State: “They’ve had a lot of close games, as all the games have been in the Big Ten.”
PSU has lost 3-2 at No. 9 Wisconsin; 3-2 and 5-2 at home to No. 1 Minnesota and 3-2 at Michigan State.
“We know they’re a hard-working team,” Schilkey said. “They’re going to come every night.”
The Buckeyes (12-9-1, 2-5-1-0) have also been in numerous tight games and gained some needed confidence last Saturday by ending a four-game winless streak with a 3-1 win at Wisconsin.
“We needed that,” DaSilva said. “Going into the weekend our goal was to win both games. Unfortunately Friday wasn’t our game. Saturday we came out and played well.
“I can see even today in practice the guys are more confident, skating with the puck well and competing.”
The Buckeyes have been in position to win nearly every Big Ten game going into the third period but haven’t always come up with a timely goal or key defensive play.
“We know that we’re close and we know that if we tighten up little things in our game we can be a great team,” Schilkey said. “We’re a good team and we know that.”
Yet, Rohlik said his team will not be overconfident going in the weekend series.
“It’s only human nature to look at records but they’re looking at ours, too” he said. “We’re not too far from where they’re at, so we’ve got to throw that out the window. We’ve got to be prepared like anybody else we play in the Big Ten.”
He was without injured defensemen senior Curtis Gedig and sophomore Craig Dalrymple against the Badgers but is optimistic Gedig can play this weekend.
Rohlik also has the envious problem of deciding between two good freshmen goalies in Matt Tomkins and Christian Frey. Tomkins became the starter in early November before an ankle injury kept him out two months.
Frey was named this week’s second star by the conference for stopping 36 of 37 shots in the win against the Badgers.
“I like the competition,” Rohlik said. “If we can have two goalies going it’s better than one.”
The celebration of 50 years of OSU hockey as a varsity sport will culminate Saturday with the naming of the All-Buckeye Team during the first intermission as determined by fan voting. Prior to the game, the hockey alums, some back to the 1963-64 team, will be introduced … Friday, Script Ohio on Ice will be performed during the first intermission … Penn State sophomore assistant captain David Glen will miss the games this weekend after donating bone marrow. Glen entered the National Marrow Donor Program registry through a drive at Penn State held for Kim Roper, the mother of former PSU men’s lacrosse player, Drew Roper. The Ropers are from the Columbus area and Drew graduated from Worthington Kilbourne. Glen was found to be a match for a woman battling leukemia and recently completed a procedure to harvest hematopoietic stem cells. At both games this weekend fans can visit the Fred Taylor Room on the concourse level and join the registry. For more information: visit Match4Kim.com or BeTheMatch.org.