Penn State to Play Army on Friday

After almost a week a speculation, Army will indeed travel to Happy Valley this Friday to take on Penn State in the Pegula Ice Arena opener.

College Hockey News reported yesterday that Army received the okay to travel to Penn State, citing two sources. Army Hockey confirmed this report today by tweeting out a statement on their official Twitter page.

Penn State’s games next weekend with Air Force are still on. One good sign is that Air Force confirmed today that they will take place in the Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage, Alaska this weekend.

So what can Penn State fans expect when their team hits the ice Friday?

First off, with all the hoopla surrounding the new arena you better believe head coach Guy Gadowsky will make sure  his team is focused and ready to play.  I hate opening night games because what’s lost in all the festivities is an actual hockey game is going to be played.

Penn State did blank Army 5-0 last year in West Point and I do expect them to win Friday given they’re much more talented. However, they can’t take the Black Knights lightly. Penn State fell into a habit last season of overlooking opponents and looking ahead on the schedule to bigger games instead of completing the task at hand. With veteran players such as captain Tommy Olczyk and assistant captain Nate Jensen I don’t think they will fall into that same trap this season.

Last season, Army implemented a more aggressive up-tempo style that saw an increase in point totals from previous seasons. The loss of top scorer Andy Starczewski to graduation will hurt the Black Knights this season, but sophomores Joe Kozlak and Thane Heller are promising young players. Kozlak excelled as a rookie last season registering seven goals, 10 assists for 17 points. He centered Army’s top line last season. He has good size at 6’2, 190 pounds and from what I remember last year he has real quick hands.

Heller led Army in goals last season with nine and had 15 points in 34 games. The native of Elizabethtown, PA is big at 6’2, 210 pounds. How Penn State will keep Heller under control is something to watch.

Defensively, Army needs to improve. They finished 56th nationally in total defense giving up on average 3.56 goals per game. They are led by junior assistant captain Mac Lalor. He’s coming off a sensational sophomore season scoring 18 points in 34 games. Lalor excels in both ends of the rink and possesses a howitzer for a shot. Stopping him will be key for the Lions.

Up front, Penn State is led by sophomores Casey Bailey, David Glen and Minnesota transfer Max Gardiner. Bailey and Glen both hit 10 goals last season and were Penn State’s most consistent forwards. Gardiner, who was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in 2010 and is the brother of current Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner,  has all the potential in the world. Last season, he didn’t seem comfortable to me. Maybe it was the transfer and getting used to a new environment? Maybe it’s the pressure of being an NHL draft pick? I can’t pinpoint what it was exactly but he’s crucial for Penn State this season. Look for him to have a big game Friday.

Goalie Matt Skoff was impressive last season as a freshman but I expect New York Islanders draft pick Eamon McAdam to get the majority of the playing time this season.

One player to watch Friday for Penn State is Anchorage transfer Eric Scheid. He has experience playing at the NCAA level and was a dominant player during his time with the Lincoln Stars of the USHL. Don’t be surprised if NHL teams take a look at Scheid. On the blueline no one player sticks out to me. Penn State was decimated by injuries last season. Sophomore Mark Yanis would have been drafted if he wasn’t hurt all of last year and sophomore Luka Juha has NHL potential as well.

Overall, it should be a fun atmosphere Friday at Pegula. If you can’t be in attendance you can watch the game on the Big Ten Network starting at 8 p.m. from the comforts of your couch.

I think this quote from Guy Gadowsky at the Big 10 Hockey Media Day last month sums up the upcoming season perfectly.

“It’s a new conference. We’re new. We’ve never been in a conference. So, very difficult for me to say this is what you’re going to get. We don’t know. That is part of the excitement about it.” 

* NBCSN will now televise Penn State’s road games against Michigan State Saturday on Jan. 18 at 6:30 p.m. and against Minnesota on Saturday, March 1. The Nittany Lions’ will appear on national television at least 12 times this season.