Thursday night games aren't generally preferred by college hockey teams. They cut the practice week in half and make it difficult for fans outside of the team's hometown to get to the arena.
But when programs like UMASS-Lowell, the nation's No. 16 team (and pre-season No. 1) want to come to town, exceptions are made. And when there is a home football game on the same weekend a top-flight opponent comes to town, exceptions have to be made.
So Penn State (3-3-1) will play host to the Riverhawks for a pair of tilts before Purdue visits Beaver Stadium Saturday, dropping the puck at 7 p.m. both Thursday and Friday night at Pegula Ice Arena.
Three Stars of the Weekend
1. F Ricky DeRosa, Penn State: Credited with the game-winner after visiting Sacred Heart tacked on a late 6-on-4 goal in what was ultimately a 2-1 Penn State victory last Friday, DeRosa took home the top star for the first time this year. He finished with only one shot on goal, which came just over four minutes after defenseman Luke Juha scored to give Penn State a 1-0 lead.
2. D Luke Juha, Penn State: The first goal scorer last Friday, Juha now leads the team with three goals in seven games. The defenseman registered three shots on goal, and was adept in penalty killing situations.
3. G Alex Vazzano, Sacred Heart: The Sacred Heart netminder was the only reason his team didn't enter the third period — or finish the game — down more than two goals. He was fantastic, making 37 saves, including 12 in the third period. Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky lamented the fact that his team didn't register more "Grade A" chances against Sacred Heart. But when they did, Vazzano answered the bell more often than not.
Stat You Missed
Gadowsky still hasn't committed to one goaltender for the long haul, but Matthew Skoff has certainly made a fine case for the job. He enters Thursday's contest with a 3-1-1 mark after skating away with the victory against Sacred Heart.
Skoff has looked leaps and bounds ahead of freshman Eamon McAdam in terms of comfort between the pipes, and has the stats to prove it. His 2.48 goals against average ranks 32nd in the nation, and he owns a save percentage (.921) that ranks 27th. Gadowsky said his team knew who he would start Thursday, but he declined to peg Skoff or McAdam as the one. He added Friday's decision was up in the air.
Scouting the Opponents
UMASS-Lowell has a win over Michigan, but it also has a loss to the same Sacred Heart program that looked so inept at times at Pegula Ice Arena. Indeed, it has been tough to figure out the Riverhawks, who opened the season atop the USHCO rankings but have since dropped to 16th. Penn State will skate with them twice this week.
7 p.m. Thursday and Friday: No. 16 UMASS-Lowell at Penn State at Pegula Ice Arena: Norm Bazin's Riverhawks are the first ranked opponent to play Penn State at home since it returned to Division I hockey last fall, and thus, the first to play at Pegula Ice Arena, too.
UMASS-Lowell enters at 6-4 after toppling Princeton 2-1 on the road Tuesday night, making the Riverhawks winners of five of their last six. They haven't lost more than two straight since dropping a home and home with Qunnipiac Oct 18-19, and have only lost once on the road this season.
The Riverhawks are led by goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, whose .952 save percentage is tops in the nation.
Another week, another promise of line changes from Gadowsky, who reported Tuesday he still isn't happy with the Lions' offensive output.
Here's a look at Penn State's line combinations from its last five games.
Oct. 19 at Air Force:
Oct. 25 vs. RIT:
Oct. 26 vs. Vermont
Nov. 1 at Robert Morris:
Nov. 8 vs. Sacred Heart
David Goodwin-David Glen-Casey Bailey
Eric Scheid-Taylor Holstrom-Michael McDonagh
Max Gardiner-Dylan Richard-Kenny Brooks
Tommy Olczyk-Ricky DeRosa-Zach Saar
Patricky Koudys-Peter Sweetland
Luke Juha-Mark Yanis
Nate Jensen-David Thompson
Glen returned to the ice Friday after sitting a game following consecutive contests in which he was assessed a match penalty, and the line he centers, with Goodwin and Bailey on the wings, has looked good at times and stuck in neutral at others. The most consistent line, in Gadowsky's opinion, has been the last listed line, which Friday showed Olczyk and Saar centered by DeRosa.
The coach has been pleased with Olczyk and DeRosa as penalty killers, and it's true that the pair have been Penn State's best weapons when skating a man down. But top to bottom consistency is still being sought.
Around the Big Ten
Minnesota held steady in the latest USCHO rankings, owning the No. 1 spot again by gathering 38 of 50 possible first-place votes. The Golden Gophers enter this week 6-1-1, but Michigan is gaining ground, as the Wolverines, now 6-1-1 themselves, grabbed nine first-place votes of their own.
Wisconsin, now 3-2-1, bumped up a spot to No. 12, while Ohio State earned its first two votes of the season (though at 6-4-1, it was not ranked this past week). Penn State checks in second-to-last in the midst of league wide non-conference action at 3-3-1, while Michigan State sits in the cellar at 3-5.
Quote of the Week
Gadowsky was asked to assess his team after seven games Tuesday, and made it clear that he doesn't believe his program is quite at the level he expected it to be at this point:
"It's a real measuring stick going into. They're a great opponent, the coaching staff is awesome there, and they've obviously had a ton of success," Gadowsky said of UMASS-Lowell. "They're an excellent opponent. It's a great opportunity for us to find out where we're at.
"I was hoping we would have just maybe one thing to be addressing this week going into UMASS-Lowell, but there's a number of things, which isn't a great feeling. We'd rather be a lot more systematic, but we don't feel like we've actually established a really good foundation in a lot of areas."