"I felt we made a mistake in building a baseball field. I thought that should have been the ice skating rink, because I think hockey in this state right now, not just hockey, but ice skating, if you come up to our office building at 6:00 in the morning, some mornings you can't get a parking spot because parents have taken their kids up here to skate...I think hockey will be a great addition to our intercollegiate program. [The Pegula gift] is a great, great gift. And I think very far-sighted and I'm really pleased with it." - Joe Paterno

Friday, January 11, 2013

State and the Unions

What
NCAA Men: vs. U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18
NCAA Women: at Union

Where
NCAA Men: Greenberg Ice Pavilion, University Park, PA
NCAA Women: Messa Rink, Schenectady, NY

When
NCAA Men: Friday, January 11 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, January 12 at 7:30 p.m.
NCAA Women: Friday, January 11 at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday, January 12 at 4:00 p.m

Coverage
NCAA Men: TYT live blogs (free), Friday PSU video ($), Friday PSU audio ($), Friday PSU live stats (free), Saturday PSU video ($), Saturday PSU audio ($), Saturday PSU live stats (free)
NCAA Women: Union video ($), Union live stats (free)

J.T. Compher will return to Penn State next season, but as a Michigan Wolverine.

The men, who are now 9-12-0 in all games, 8-11-0 against NCAA competition and 6-10-0 against NCAA Division I will try to reverse their fortunes with a pair of exhibitions against the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 team. Since November 10th, PSU is just 3-9-0 in all games and beyond the win over Ohio State in Pittsburgh - which was outstanding, of course - has only beaten the ACHA's Arizona State and NCAA DIII Fredonia.

For those who don't know the nature of this week's opponent, the National Team Development Program is a USA Hockey initiative based in Ann Arbor, MI. Since 1996, it has attempted to identify the best American players and get them into the same organization in an attempt to enhance their development for, according to their literature "participation on U.S. National Teams and success in their future hockey careers." The NTDP, which includes both an Under-17 and an Under-18 team, plays games against college teams (generally, only the U18s play those games), against the USHL, as the NTDP is a member of the league, and in international tournaments. NTDP players have gone on to collegiate and NHL success, as famous Big Ten alumni like Ryan Kesler, Jordan Leopold, Ryan Suter and Phil Kessel are counted among their products. No fewer than 15 players from Team USA's recent gold medal team at the World Junior Championships did time with the NTDP.

Obviously, since the U18s are the team playing Penn State, I'll speak exclusively about them from this point, using "NTDP" or "Team USA" as shorthand.

There's sort of a misconception many have of these games, at least some of the people with whom I've spoken, who view these as pointless walkovers, which really couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, Penn State will be the less talented team on the ice this weekend. That's not a slam on the Nittany Lions. The NTDPers, as mentioned, are among the best American players out there in their age group and as such, they out-talent just about every college team they play, with edges in experience and physical maturity going to the collegians (a senior who aged out of junior hockey is generally six years older than an U18 player).

The games Team USA has played against NCAA opponents bear that out, with wins over Michigan, Merrimack and Alabama-Huntsville. They also boast impressive draws with Minnesota, Notre Dame and New Hampshire, presently three of the top four teams in the country. Most of the NTDP's action comes against USHL competition, and (combined with the U17 team in this case), they're 6-18-3 in those games.

As one might surmise, NTDP players are some of the most sought-after recruits in the country. Nineteen players opposing PSU this weekend are committed to colleges, including future Big Ten opponents J.T. Compher, Evan Allen and Tyler Motte (Michigan), as well as Hudson Fasching (Minnesota). While Penn State has yet to pull an NTDP recruit, getting players of their caliber on campus certainly can't hurt in that process. Motte, Compher, Allen and Fasching, along with leading scorer Tyler Kelleher (committed to New Hampshire) represent a few of a lethal group of forwards that will really test a thin PSU blueline that hopes to receive Mark Yanis back this weekend but has now lost Luke Juha to an undisclosed injury.

Shenae Lundberg is an elite stopper - and owes some of that to PSU's Casey McCullion.

For the women (7-12-1, 1-8-1 CHA), this weekend represents a chance to continue the momentum generated from last weekend's shellacking of an overmatched and shorthanded NCAA Division III Chatham team. The Nittany Lions will seek to chip off a second and a third major-conference win at Union (5-11-3, 0-7-3 ECAC).

Since joining the Division I ranks to join their male counterparts in 2003-2004, the Dutchwomen haven't been particularly successful, never posting more than five wins or better than a 0.176 win percentage in any season. In that sense, this year has been a breakout of sorts with that zenith for victories already matched and Connecticut, Maine, RPI and Syracuse, PSU's College Hockey America rival, among Union's victims.

The team's undisputed star is goaltender Shenae Lundberg. The sophomore boasts a 3.09 goals against average and a 0.902 save percentage - outstanding numbers on a losing team. She has a boatload of USA Hockey recognition to prove her talents, including her status as a member of the 2011 world champion U.S. U18 team. Lundberg is also a four-time USA Hockey Player Development Camp selection and a two-time selection to the Warren Strelow National Team Goaltending Camp. She's played in four of Union's five wins, and has been called on to make at least 30 saves each time without ever allowing more than three goals.

In short, Lundberg is good.

Oh, by the way, the New Hampshire native is an alumna of Deerfield Academy, where she played for - you guessed it - PSU assistant Casey McCullion, who was an assistant there in 2007-2008.

With Nicole Paniccia expected back between the pipes after playing only 20 minutes in the sweep of Chatham, combined with Lundberg and Union's anemic offense that scores just 1.42 times per game, it probably isn't out of line to expect a pair of low-scoring games. When the Dutchwomen do receive offense, it tends to come from a large number of sources. Sophomore Christine Valente leads the team with five goals, but the team's 27 this season have come from 12 different players.

It would serve the Nittany Lions well to put everything out there in the pursuit of two wins - next weekend is the last one off for the team this season before jumping back into the fray with a trip to Syracuse on January 25th and 26th.

2 comments:

  1. Good writeup on the NTDP. I think that the U-18s often surprise and do better than expected against older, seasoned NCAA teams because those NCAA teams use the exhibitions as opportunities to play their 3rd string goalies and walk-ons. If PSU plays all of its starters and goes all out to win, expect at least a win and a tie this weekend against the U-18s.

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    1. Thanks! You're absolutely right about the top teams treating them like, well, exhibitions, didn't want to overcook the explanation. UAH probably took them seriously because they have like three home games this year not against ACHA D3 haha. It's the sort of thing where if we win, I'll be happy that we beat a quality opponent and if we lose, I won't jump off a bridge. But yeah, I do have an expectation of winning.

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