Penn State and Arizona State are two of the NCAA's newest Division I hockey teams.
The Sun Devils started fielding the sport in 2015, while Penn State fielded its first team three years earlier in 2012.
But even in that short time, the two programs have a history.
The familiarity that comes with the Sun Devils could be an issue for Guy Gadowsky and company, as Arizona State’s hockey program has only been around for six years.
“They’re a new program like we were. I remember programs being very generous and helpful to us to try and get us started and doing what they could to help us — so I think it’s the right thing for college hockey,” Gadowsky said prior to the season. "It’s a win-win all around. I know that they try to play a lot of the best programs in the nation, and they’re going to get that in the Big Ten."
Despite the success Penn State has had in recent years against the team, going 5-1-0 and outscoring them 35-15, the two teams haven’t met in more than two years, but Penn State is looking to continue its success.
After a more than forgettable 0-5 start to the 2020-21 campaign, Penn State was able to bounce back and secure its first win of the season last time out against then-No. 7 Michigan.
Now, for its second home series of the year, the Nittany Lions welcome the No. 20 ranked Sun Devils to Happy Valley.
The Sun Devils are the only non-Big Ten team Penn State will play this year, as it was added to every Big Ten teams’ schedule.
Arizona State comes into this weekend riding a bit of a hot streak after also getting off to a rocky start, winning three of its last four including a series sweep against Wisconsin two weekends ago.
Gadowsky, though, is less worried about Arizona State and more focused on his team continuing to get better.
“We still have so much to work on,” Gadowsky said. “We’ve only had one game where we feel we deserved to win.”
One of the areas of concern is allowing pucks into the net.
Only Wisconsin has given up more goals, 32, than Penn State, 28, but the Badgers have played four more games than the Nittany Lions.
After splitting its last two games with Michigan, Penn State will look to continue its recen…
Penn State has the highest goals allowed per game in the Big Ten at 4.67, with the next closest team being Notre Dame at 3.33.
Throw in the fact that Penn State has the worst penalty kill percentage in the conference, and its goalies rank last and second last in save percentage, it’s safe to say Penn State could shore up that side of its game.
There is more to clean up, though, as Gadowsky feels the goals can't be pinned on any one aspect quite yet.
“It’s not fair to categorize the goals yet,” he said. “I think some of that responsibility is team defense and some of that responsibility is goaltending.”
If Penn State doesn’t figure something out before puck drops on Friday, the Sun Devils could have a field day at Pegula Ice Arena.
Arizona State has scored 21 goals over its past four games while Penn State has allowed 21 over its previous four.
“Honestly, I think we've just got to trust our own game,” junior goaltender Oskar Autio said. “We’ve seen when we play Penn State hockey it works.”
Playing Penn State hockey did work in the team’s final game against Michigan, scoring nine goals including two from junior Bobby Hampton, his first two as a Nittany Lion.
Hampton feels the team really played the style of hockey it wanted to in the second and knows it needs to continue that play as well.
“In the second game against Michigan we saw guys that were hungry in front of the net and that we wanted the puck,” he said. “It resulted in a bunch of goals, and we realized that it's fun to play that style of hockey.”
Should Penn State recapture the magic that led it to nine goals, it will still need solid back-end defensive play and powerful goaltending.
When the goaltending is solid like it was in the first game against Michigan, as Autio had his best game allowing only two goals with 28 saves, it boosts the confidence of the entire team.
“We know [Oskar’s] got our back,” senior captain Alex Limoges said. “[It] allows us to be a little more aggressive and put more pucks on the net.”
Like Penn State, Arizona State has a high powered offense, however, Gadowksy said he is not too familiar about all the similarities between the two schools, but still respects what Greg Powers has done in Tempe.
Penn State will certainly get used to the Sun Devils, though, as the Nittany Lions will play them four times this year and get to see film on how Arizona State fairs against the rest of the Big Ten.
“[I have] a lot of respect and admiration [for them],” he said. “As far as on ice play, I don't know if I can speak to that yet.”