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Michigan hockey set to open Big Ten play this weekend at Penn State

The Wolverines are headed to Happy Valley to face the undefeated Nittany Lions.

COLLEGE HOCKEY: JAN 19 Penn State at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines (7-1) are No. 1 in the country in both polls following a high scoring weekend sweep over Western Michigan. Michigan is 3-1 against ranked opponents so far this season and look to continue that success when they open Big Ten play this weekend against the Nittany Lions.

No. 10/13 Penn State (8-0) is one of only two undefeated teams in the top 20, and is the only undefeated team that has played more than five games. The Nittany Lions are the second-highest scoring offense in the country, averaging 4.62 goals per game and featuring one of the hottest goaltenders in the country.

Penn State’s offense is balanced, but primarily orchestrated through a pair of seniors: points leader Ture Linden and leading goal scorer Kevin Wall. Oddly enough, the Nittany Lions have a mediocre power play attack (No. 35 in the country), so they are doing most of their damage at even strength, making it all the more impressive.

In net, junior Liam Souliere is coming off his first shutout of the season and is the top goalie in the Big Ten — fifth nationally — with a .945 save percentage. On paper, Penn State appears to be a juggernaut but digging deeper into its resume, it is obvious why it has had so much success early on.

Penn State’s first four opponents (Canisius, Mercyhurst, St. Thomas, Wisconsin) have as many wins combined as the Wolverines; those four teams are a combined 7-23-1 on the season and help inflate the Nittany Lions’ numbers. While still a good team, there is a reason at 8-0 they still trail several two and three-loss teams in the polls.

Historically, the Wolverines have had very few issues with Penn State. Last year, Michigan swept all four games against the Nittany Lions, including two blowout victories in Happy Valley by a combined score of 11-3.

Michigan is the top offense in the country (5.25 goals per game) and features the best line in hockey, led by the front runner for the Hobey Baker Award in freshman phenom Adam Fantilli. Sophomore defenseman Luke Hughes finally found his rhythm last weekend putting up four points, including the overtime game-winner against Western Michigan in Kalamazoo. And despite average numbers, goalie Erik Portillo is playing at a high level.

Keys to the Game

  • Start fast and physical. Penn State will not be prepared for this massive jump in competition and the Wolverines can take advantage and pad an early lead. Even if the officials are calling a tight game, the Penn State power play is sub-par, allowing Michigan a cushion to take a few penalties.
  • Control the neutral zone. The Nittany Lions like to fly around on the ice during five-on-five play and will seek to control the neutral zone to create odd-man rushes. Michigan must be sound with puck possession and put the defense in a place to succeed.
  • Adjust to the adjustments. Despite being on the road, Michigan should take the first game against a Penn State team that is used to playing tomato cans. But in order to secure the sweep, the Wolverines must be prepared for schematic and effort adjustments in game two. Penn State will not take kindly to losing its perfect record, especially at home.
  • Build Swedish confidence. Last weekend against Western Michigan, the Wolverines got lackadaisical and lethargic with the puck once they had a two-goal lead in both games. Bad rotations and puck watching frequently put Portillo in lose-lose situations. In order to keep his confidence up, Michigan must send a message defensively this week and ensure their Super Swede goaltender has zero self doubt as conference play begins.


WHEN: Friday, Nov. 4, 8 p.m.

WHERE: State College, PA, Pegula Ice Arena

WATCH: Big Ten Network

LISTEN: Varsity Podcast Network


WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 5,

WHERE: State College, PA, Pegula Ice Arena


LISTEN: Varsity Podcast Network