Wednesday, May 29, 2013

PSU to Host Sacred Heart in November

UVM transfer Alex Vazzano will fortify SHU, which allowed more than five goals per game last year

Reciprocating an October 27, 2012 contest in Milford, CT that saw a 6-3 Nittany Lions win, Sacred Heart will visit Pegula Ice Arena on Friday, November 8th according to an official SHU schedule release. Game time is still TBA.

Following PSU's high-flying victory, which included six different players on the blue and white side of the scoresheet, the Pioneers went on to have a disastrous campaign - in fact they were winless in their first 28 games (0-26-2) before finally chipping off Holy Cross and Bentley in a four-day late season span on the way to a 2-30-4 (2-21-4 Atlantic Hockey) mark. Robert Morris dispatched SHU in two straight in the AHA playoffs to quickly and mercifully end their season.

If there is possible redemption for Sacred Heart in November, it rests in the idea that head coach C.J. Marottolo had a large senior class in 2012-2013, with nine departures from last season's 24-man roster. Not that the senior class was terrible - leading scorer Eric Delong and Kyle Verbeek, the son of NHL 500 goal scorer Pat Verbeek, were in that group - but when you're 2-30-4, a reboot can be a good thing. Notable newcomers include Alex Vazzano, a Vermont transfer who will attempt to stabilize the Pioneers' goaltending situation after serving his NCAA-required year in residence. SHU also brings in a massive freshman class that leans heavily on Canadian Junior A alumni like right wing Spencer Graboski, who teamed up with Penn State defenseman Dave Thompson for three seasons with the BCHL's Chilliwack Chiefs/Quesnel Millionaires franchise.

In terms of the big picture... well, we may now know the big picture. We have 20 Big Ten games, single games at home against Sacred Heart, Army, RIT and - maybe/hopefully - Boston College, as well as on the road against Robert Morris and in Philadelphia against Vermont. Toss in an away series with Air Force, the Three Rivers Classic, a home series versus Union and - again maybe/hopefully - with UMass-Lowell, and... guess what? That's 34 games, the maximum allowed by NCAA rules. The dates are still largely up in the air, but the opponents are now entirely known. Or I'll look like an idiot when the schedule is finally released. One or the other.

The single game on a Friday also leaves an obvious open question: what's happening on Saturday? Penn State football is on the road (at Minnesota) that day, so this isn't a single-game weekend aimed at ducking football, like the October 11th Friday-only PIA opener against Army preceding Bill O'Brien's squad's hosting Michigan on the 12th. There probably will be another hockey game on the 9th.

My first instinct was to check Boston College's schedule, but that seems like a non-starter. The Eagles have the 9th open, but play at Boston University on the 8th and host Army on the 10th. They're not likely to zoom into Hockey Valley on an off day (after playing their archrival) between games in Boston.

The other two possible stand-alone games are, like Sacred Heart, return trips from 2012-2013 games: home against RIT and at Robert Morris, a trip easily do-able as part of a back-to-back. Neither school has announced its schedule yet, and neither has any known games that weekend. It's probably not a reach to think one of those games will fall on that Saturday, and if I was a betting man, I'd lean towards RIT because the date more closely mirrors the Nittany Lions' 3-2 win over the Tigers on October 20, 2012. PSU played the Colonials at the Ice Pavilion on December 15th last season and still has the December 13th-15th weekend available this year.

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