Hockey: On the Differences Between Penn State and Denver

By Doug Leeson on March 24, 2018 at 10:30 pm
Denver NCAA Tournament
via Heather Weikel

Penn State wanted Denver and it got it. It got Denver's five goals and 42 shots and got outplayed for almost the entire game. This game was a demonstration of the difference between Penn State and teams of Denver’s caliber; what makes it even more significant is that Penn State's best wouldn't be enough against Denver's best.

Denver is led by Ducks draft pick and U.S. Olympian Troy Terry, while Penn State has Andrew Sturtz -- an incredible player, but the former’s greatest hockey-related achievements have taken place on huge stages, and the latter’s have been at Penn State. Half of Denver’s roster is more talented than anyone on the Lions’ not named Sturtz or Smirnov. As much as Penn State has achieved -- which, it should go without saying, is an astonishing amount -- it doesn’t have the history of winning, recruiting footprints, and as a result, it doesn’t have players that can keep up with the actual elites.

The Nittany Lions are famous for shooting as much as they can and turning first chances into seconds and thirds. Denver completely had their number; they cleaned up the crease and limited Penn State to an uncharacteristically low 27 shots. There’s a lot more to Penn State’s game; the energy it plays with is effective on defense and the forecheck too, but even with those aspects of their game working well, it comes down to goals. The Pioneers knew how to shut the Nittany Lions down, and there are a couple teams with enough talent to do exactly what they did.

It comes down to this: Penn State’s best isn’t close enough to Denver's. The Nittany Lions could’ve won this game if Jaillet made a few more mistakes and Jones made a few more saves, but if that happened, it would’ve felt like a steal.

Every time I doubt these guys, they prove me wrong. But we just saw exactly how far apart these programs are, and there’s a lot of work to be done before that divide shrinks. Some great seniors are leaving and more impressive freshmen are coming in; it turns out, this wasn’t the year that Penn State was able to take the next step, but it found out firsthand what that step looks like.