In the first two weekends of the college hockey season, everything has gone according to plan for No. 10 Penn State.
The Nittany Lions are a program-best 4-0 after handling Clarkson and taking care of business against Niagara. But on Friday, Penn State is set to face its toughest test so far when No. 13 Princeton enters Pegula Ice Arena.
Prior to coaching at Penn State, head coach Guy Gadowsky coached at Princeton for seven seasons. Gadowsky turned around a program that won just eight games in the two seasons, to a team that won 22 games in a single season and earned two straight bids to the NCAA Tournament.
Gadowsky is not the only member of the Penn State coaching staff who has ties to Princeton, though, as associate head coach Keith Fisher and assistant coach Matt Lindsay both followed Gadowsky from the Ivy League school to ‘Hockey Valley.’
“I think our whole staff that came from Princeton, we are very proud of what happened there and like Penn State there are extremely high character individuals,” Gadowsky said.
Although these coaches will be facing their former school, it doesn’t make this game special for Gadowsky.
“This is a game where if we can have success it is going to be a really good RPI win and that’s all I care about,” Gadowsky said. “The fact that it’s Princeton doesn’t mean one thing.”
Friday will be the opening game of the season for Princeton after the Tigers went 19-13-4 and won the ECAC Tournament last season. Princeton made the NCAA Tournament and was defeated 4-2 in the first round by Ohio State.
This will only be the third meeting between these two schools, with them splitting the previous two matchups. Penn State won the only game in Pegula in 2015.
The Penn State blue line was a position group full of uncertainty coming into this season after the departures of Trevor Hamilton and Erik Autio, in addition to senior Kevin Kerr dealing with an injury that has prevented him from playing so far this season.
But through the first two weekends, the Nittany Lions defense has been solid doing what it needs to do in order to win games. But it will be up against one of the most potent attacks in all of college hockey against Princeton. The Tigers are returning their two highest point earners from last season.
Max Véronneau leads the way for the Princeton offense and is one of the favorites to win the Hobey Baker Award this season. Véronneau had 17 goals and 55 points last season, which ranked second in the nation.
Princeton also returns Ryan Kuffner, who was second on the team last season with 52 points, which ranked fourth in the nation. Kuffner also found the back of the net 29 times, which was the second most in the country.
Chase Berger fits the mold of a captain very well. The forward is equal parts valuable playe…
“To have two guys that have been so successful coming back for their senior years is unheard of right now,” Gadowsky said. “They are an excellent team and this is a really good opportunity for us.”
Although the defense will be put to the test this weekend, the Nittany Lions’ offense will be matched against a very inexperienced Princeton defense that graduated multiple players from last season’s team.
Last season, the Tiger’s defense ranked 36th in the nation in goals allowed per game with 3.06.
Penn State’s forwards have wasted no time put points on the board. Seven Nittany Lions currently have five or more points in just four games. Thirteen Penn State players have already found the back of the net.
Ryan Ferland will be tasked with shutting down this potent Penn State attack in goal for Princeton.
Ferland is coming off a very streaky freshman season. Last season Ferland had a save percentage of .912 and allowed 2.91 goals against per game, but Ferland often played his best in the biggest moments for the Tigers last season.
Peyton Jones will start in goal Friday for Penn State, according to Gadowsky. Jones, the starter the past two seasons, has been splitting time with fellow goaltender Chris Funkey over the past two weekends.