Throw on your "We OU 1" t-shirt and lock up your farm animals, the Bobcats are making their annual visit to the Ice Pavilion tonight and tomorrow. The ACHA's best rivalry is long on history (11 combined national championships) and short on goodwill. Essentially, if you only make it to two games all year, make it these two. You'll thank me later. I'll save the sappy nostalgia post for the trip to Athens - this one's about functionality.
Know Your Rival
Just like Central Oklahoma last weekend, No. 2 Ohio comes in as a bit of an enigma. They opened their season with two wins by a combined 30-0 against the Goderich Sailors, a completely overmatched Canadian Jr. C team (and a bad one at that). The Bobcats have played four home ACHA games since then: a sweep at the hands of the No. 7 Davenport Panthers (one loss in a shootout), a former D2 juggernaut making some serious noise in its first season at the D1 level, and a split with No. 9 Oakland. Despite the quality of the opposition, with a 1-2-1 ACHA record, OU stands to fall from their high perch when the new rankings come out just before game time tonight.
The major storyline for Ohio is the fact that they have a former NCAA Division I goalie between the pipes, Blake MacNicol. The one-time Alabama-Huntsville netminder actually served as the Chargers' primary goaltender in 2007-08 before being passed on the depth chart by Cam Talbot, then suffering a hand injury that limited him to 37 minutes over two games last season. I'll let OU coach Dan Morris finish the story.
Morris said he is confident with three new goaltenders heading into the season, including University of Alabama-Huntsville transfer Blake MacNicol.For what it's worth, MacNicol's UAH career ended with a 12-16-6 record, a 3.24 goals against average, and a 0.898 save percentage (full stats here), primarily against teams like Robert Morris, Niagara and Bemidji State in the now-defunct CHA. In three ACHA games so far, he's 1-1-1, 3.64 goals against average, 0.895 save percentage. Before we had a pending NCAA Division I team of our own, I obsessed over things like that. Now, not quite as much.
"We brought Blake in for that specific reason: his experience," Morris said.
MacNicol, the son of former Ohio hockey player Alex MacNicol, was redshirted last season after a hand injury and felt he was "over-recruited" this year, Morris said.
"He wanted play his senior year. He's always felt that Ohio U has had a place in his heart," he said. "We gladly accepted him after Paul Marshall's departure."
Up front, the Bobcats are led by a lethal top line of Nick Rostek-Tyler Pilmore-Michael Schultz, which has combined for 5 goals and 10 assists in the four ACHA games. Secondary scoring comes largely from Zach Tisdale and Brett Agnew, as well as defensemen Steve Osacky and Zack Barbis. Ohio appeared to have some defensive issues in allowing 70 shots and 9 goals in the two games against Davenport before tightening things up with 46 and 4 versus Oakland. Then again, facing teams made up largely of NAHL and OJHL players (as well as a couple transfers from recently-defunct NCAA Division III Minnesota-Crookston) will give most ACHA teams defensive issues.
Whatever OU is, they're sure to provide a stiff test for an Icers team that has seemed to improve each weekend, yet is still not without issues of their own.
A Decisive Trend
The Icers have played Ohio four times each regular season since 1998-99. In each case - except last season, when the sites were reversed - the two games at the Ice Pavilion have been in the fall semester (usually October), while the games at Ohio's Bird Arena have been in the spring (usually February). To say that the venue is important to the series is a drastic understatement.
In the home games since 1998-99, Penn State is 20-2-2, outscoring the Bobcats 92-46 (or 3.8-1.9 per game). Yet when the series shifts to Athens, OU holds a 13-9-2 edge, narrowly outscoring the Icers 71-65.
Just to complete the picture, the teams have also met at the ACHA national championship tournament four times in that span, with the Icers holding a 3-1-0 advantage, including a 5-0 win in the 2003 national championship game at Bird Arena (technically a neutral site game, despite the hostile crowd).
A couple things to check out before the game:
If you have any interest in hockey's tradition at Penn State, going back to the first games in 1909, here's Steve Penstone's interview with Lou Prato from the first intermission last Friday (starts at 1:11:06, ends at 1:19:09). Prato is a guy who clearly drinks a ton of blueberry juice, and his insight into the much-too-sparsely-documented history is worth a look.
On Penstone's View From the Booth, Coach Balboni gives the Icers a C grade to this point. I completely agree with the grade and his explanation of said grade.
In the Collegian pre-game write-up, Marek Polidor's not happy about being ranked below OU. Don't worry, you won't be in a few hours.