Hockey: Ohio to face rival PSU

Oakland defender Mike Baker and Ohio forward Johnathan Pietramala chase the puck as the Bobcats defeat the Grizzles. Ohio won 4-3 on Jan. 25 at Bird Arena. (Daniel Kubus | Staff Photographer)

From 1995-2004, only two schools could claim American Collegiate Hockey Association championships.

Ohio and Penn State combined to win nine championships during the 10-year period, with only one vacated title by Iowa State in 1999 not going to either of the prestigious club hockey teams.

Much has changed since 2004, as Penn State has ascended above the club level status and into the NCAA. Along with the change in level came a change in name, as the Nittany Icers are now known as the Nittany Lions, in accordance with the rest of the university’s scholarship sports.

And with the change in name and level, Ohio senior Nick Rostek sees a completely different opponent than the team that swept the Bobcats at Bird Arena this past season.

“We know a few of (their players),” Rostek said. “But a lot of them aren’t there anymore. There’s only a handful that we’ve played against.”

With the change to becoming a scholarship sport, the Nittany Lions have added a bevy of NCAA-level talent, with freshman Casey Bailey leading the team with 23 points in 23 games and University of Minnesota transfer Max Gardiner acting as the primary playmaker with 16 assists.

The influx of new, freshman talent in Happy Valley also has led to a dilution of the once-stout rivalry, Ohio head coach Dan Morris said.

“Their roster is heavy with a lot of freshmen who don’t know the history we’ve had over the years,” Morris said. “They’re looking to build new rivalries, but I think it’s one of those things where their fan base knows us well and obviously our fan base knows them well.”

Morris felt the Nittany Lions were gracious to add the Bobcats to their schedule despite the move to the NCAA. Penn State has split a series against ACHA powerhouse Arizona State earlier in the season and still have a matchup against Oklahoma two weeks after the Bobcats head to Pennsylvania.

“I think it’s great that they included us in some of the games they were given to play the ACHA,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a great experience for our players to kind of see that kind of environment and that level of play. And it’s a good opportunity for our players to showcase their abilities as well.”

The environment the Bobcats will be entering will be entirely new, as Friday’s game will be played at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa. The arena holds 10,500 and is expected to be near full for the contest.

For the Bobcats, it will be the largest crowd that most of the team has played in front of. For the players, the excitement is palpable.

“Man, it’s going to be crazy there,” freshman Michael Harris said. “The most I’ve ever played in front of was 5,000. It should be a wild atmosphere.”

But with the raucous atmosphere, Rostek said his team has to maintain their composure and stick to their game plan.

“The main thing is just staying strong defensively,” Rostek said. “They’re going to have a lot of skill and a lot of speed, so it’ll be a lot like playing one of the top teams in our league. … We know what’s going to happen and we know what we have to do.”

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