The no. 18 Penn State Nittany Lions men’s hockey team gets a reprieve from Big Ten conference play this weekend as they get set to participate in a home-and-home against in-state rival Robert Morris.
Penn State has found defending their Big Ten tournament championship to be no easy task as they near the mid-way point of the season, but have seemingly found their way after being swept at Notre Dame in early November. Since then, head coach Guy Gadowsky has had his squad rolling and winning five of their last six games. The Nittany Lions are coming off a weekend sweep of then-no. 10 ranked Ohio State, where they won in a shootout Friday night before shooting the lights out of Value City Arena en route to a 4-0 victory Saturday.
To get back on track, Penn State has utilized some stellar goalie play as well as taking advantage of scoring options and lighting the lamp at an impressive rate over the last six games. The Nittany Lions benefited from heading to Arizona State and dismantling the Sun Devils over the course of the weekend, outscoring the newest Division 1 program by nine goals.
Behind most winning streaks lies above average goalie play, and during this last six-game run, the Nittany Lions are no different as they’ve ridden goalies Peyton Jones and backup Chris Funkey to their five wins in that time span. The duo each have a shutout.
Since Funkey’s shutout, Penn State goalies are giving up an average of 1.83 goals per game while averaging 23.14 saves per game. Jones, the usual starter, has allowed six goals in the four games he has started during the last six games while Funkey has allowed five, all coming against Ohio State this past Friday night, an eventual shoot out win for the Nittany Lions.
The help from the offense has certainly boosted both Funkey and Jones, but ultimately it is up to them to keep opponents from finding the back of the net and they have done an admirable job of late. With 14 games left in the conference slate and trailing Notre Dame by nine points, the duo will need to be at the top of their games if Penn State wants to add another banner to their collection and make another NCAA Tournament run.
After scoring a total of 41 goals in their first 12 games, a 3.42 average, the Nittany Lions have been on a scoring tear in their last six games scoring 29 goals, a 4.89 average. In that time span, 15 different members of the Penn State roster have found themselves on the score sheet in the goal column with freshman forward Evan Barrett finding the back of the net four times in the last six games.
Junior forward Andrew Sturtz added three goals of his own the last six games bringing his total to 10 to further cement his place as team-leader in goals for the Nittany Lions thus far. Sturtz has also added 12 assists to notch a team-leading 22 points.
Penn State boasts a balanced scoring attack that could be dangerous for Robert Morris to handle this weekend as they attempt to stop the red-hot scoring of the Nittany Lions.
The Penn State roster boasts three players from the Pittsburgh area in junior forward Matt Mendelson, freshman defenseman Alex Pilewicz and senior goaltender Matt Ehrlichman.
Mendelson is from Pittsburgh and played for the Bloomington Thunder prior to arriving at Penn State. In Pittsburgh, Mendelson played for the Pittsburgh Penguins U18 Elite squad at the beginning of teh 2012-13 season while in 2011-12 the forward played for the Pittsburgh Hornets.
Pilewicz graduated from Quaker Valley High School in Sewickley, PA where he helped lead his team to the state championship before heading to play for the Johnstown Tomahawks of the NAHL.
Erlichman played for Ligonier Valley High School as well as the Pittsburgh Hornets U18 team and the Three Rivers Vengeance.
Pilewicz has appeared in two games for the Nittany Lions this season registering two shots and a blocked shot while Mendelson has played only one game between the last two seasons. Erlichman hasn’t played a varsity game after spending his first two years at Penn State with the club team.