This Penn State hockey team has already made its own history.
Having already notched the program’s first No. 1 ranking and Big Ten Tournament title, the Nittany Lions will look to turn their first NCAA tournament victory into more than that when they travel to Cincinnati’s U.S. Bank Arena on Saturday.
Standing in their way is Union College (25-9-3), co-champion of the ECAC, making its first trip to the postseason since winning the NCAA title in 2014.
Much like Penn State, the Dutchmen rely on an elite offensive attack, capable of scoring in bunches.
Union ranks fourth nationally, averaging 3.78 goals per game, a mark that comes close to matching that of the Nittany Lions, who find the back of the net 3.97 times per contest.
The Dutchmen offense is led by a pair of finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, which is given to college hockey’s top player every year.
Mike Vecchione and Spencer Foo have combined to score 53 of their team’s 139 goals on the year, and Vecchione’s average of 1.68 points per game leads all division one players, with Foo following closely behind at 1.62.
“They are obviously great goal scorers,” head coach Guy Gadowsky said. “I do have familiarity with that program, and I’m most impressed with their work ethic, their grit. They’ve got a great culture there. The coaching staff has done a really tremendous job bringing in quality, hard-working players. So now they’re getting some of these high-end scorers, and that’s what’s making them extremely dangerous.”
With two offenses that are so evenly matched, the play of the goaltenders should prove to be crucial in deciding the outcome of the game.
Alex Sakellaropoulos anchors the Union defense in net, where he saves .921 percent of the shots he faces while allowing just over 2.42 goals per game.
He’ll be opposed by Penn State’s Peyton Jones, the most outstanding player of the Big Ten tournament. Jones has allowed 2.51 goals per game, saving .907 percent of shots.
Union’s roster features six seniors, all of whom experienced the Dutchmen’s title run three years ago, whereas the Nittany Lions are entering uncharted territory.
In a season that has been by far the best in the short history of the program, the Lions are trying to find the balance between enjoying what they’ve already achieved and striving to accomplish more.
“I will tell you that it is really hard to get there,” Gadowksy said. “We know that. We’re going to enjoy it. It’s a business trip, but we’re going to enjoy it because we know how hard it is to get there. For these guys, this group, ‘enjoy what you do’ is something that we talk about a lot, and so that’s just sort of their nature.”
The matchup is due to start at 4:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN3, with the victor advancing to take on the winner of Denver vs Michigan Tech on Sunday.