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MADISON – No.18 Wisconsin's skill, experience and speed were too much for Penn State in a 5-0 victory Sunday night at the Kohl Center, but the first meeting between the two schools on the ice signaled a movement that is on the horizon.
Next season the Badgers and Nittany Lions will join Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Ohio State in forming the Big Ten hockey conference; a move that set off conference realignment shockwaves two summers ago.
"I think it's just going to be fantastic," said Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky. "We're getting a taste of the rivalry. When two Big Ten schools get together, it doesn't matter what the school is, there's a little extra on the line."
That was evident by the amount of third-period fisticuffs is that the two schools have already started to formulate its rivalry.
"You could feel the energy that they were playing with," said Wisconsin forward Tyler Barnes, one of five different UW players to score Sunday. "They came out hard right from the gate and they really took it to us.
"I really can see this developing into something that becomes a good rivalry."
Playing its final series of its inaugural season as NCAA Division 1 independents, Gadowsky said he told his team all season that it wasn't going to judge its improvement and performance by wins or losses.
Even though the Nittany Lions (12-14-0) will finish its first season under .500 following Monday's game, their road victory at Michigan State and neutral site victory over Ohio State in Pittsburgh show that growth is coming.
One could argue its been much better than the seasons Michigan (12-18-2), Michigan State (10-23-1) and Ohio State (13-14-7) have suffered through in the soon-to-be-defunct CCHA.
"It's hard not to get a little excited about the results we've gotten," said Gadowsky.
Gadowsky admitted that his team is nowhere close to Wisconsin's level and that playing in the Kohl Center gave his team "a lot of information." Improving its defense would be one thing, as Wisconsin (14-10-7) fired a season-high 51 shots on goal and the Nittany Lions took seven penalties for 14 minutes. That resulted in Wisconsin's anemic power play scoring twice for just the second time all season and the Penn State not getting into any offensive rhythm.
But having been in charge and succeeding in rebuilding projects at Alaska and Princeton, the excitement is certainly there heading into the new endeavor.
"It's (still) been a fantastic year," said Gadowsky. "I'm loving it."
The final score didn't indicate how close and competitive the game was throughout the first two periods. Both teams were scoreless and held to six shots after one and Wisconsin only took a two-goal lead into the third period.
"They worked hard and they played together as a unit when they were on the ice," said Eaves. "Guy is a good coach. He knows what it takes. Sometimes you've got to get some pieces in there to make it all work. They are going in the right direction."
With each team play one another in a home and road series and wanting to take advantage of the Big Ten Network's television platform, Sunday-Monday series or afternoon faceoffs may become more common. Eaves called this weekend a trial run, considering Monday's game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
"There's history with all our sports," said Eaves. "I think that's what's going to be picked up here."
Only time will tell but if Sunday was a starting point, the conference is heading in the right direction.