“In the long history of the NCAA’s annual Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament, only a few local generations have been granted the honor of representing Allentown’s fancy new arena in its long-awaited hour of maximum national exposure. I do no shrink from this responsibility – I welcome it. I do not believe any of us here in the Lehigh Valley would trade places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the passion, the pride which we bring to this frozen endeavor will light our community and all who serve it – and the glow from that fire can truly light the entire Commonwealth.
And so my fellow Pennsylvanians, ask not what the Commonwealth can do for you, ask what you can do for the state university’s ice hockey team.”
-d.E., with a no-look pass from former U.S. President John F. Kennedy
Photo: Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
17 March 2018
Featured Hockey Correspondent
Exactly one month ago, the Penn State Nittany Lions clearly appeared to be all but eliminated from the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament. After having ascended to the # 9 slot on the all-important “Pairwise Rankings” chart roughly halfway through January, the Nittany Lions went on an eight-game winless streak which included six losses and plummeted to # 18 as direct result. Going into its final regular season series, the computer geeks who keep track of such things gave Penn State a 20% chance of becoming one of the sixteen teams who would ultimately receive an invitation to the NCAAs.
Kram and I were both always ‘significantly invested’ in the 2018 NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament at the PPL Center in Allentown and so we collectively viewed this apparent collapse of Penn State’s with growing concern. Convinced that the Nittany Lions might very well be toast, Kram started reviewing his master list of potential future Lehigh Valley Phantoms (read, NHL Draft picks of the Philadelphia Flyers) currently competing at the collegiate level while the surprising German team, which included one-time Phantoms winger Marcel Noebels, at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang began to monopolize my attention.
I also figured if Penn State fell through, then I could simply hang my hat on the fact that I, personally, have never ever been to an NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament game and that this upcoming event at the PPL Center would actually be a great experience no matter what schools actually ended up playing.
This because, in 1987, I had had the unique opportunity to see the University of Minnesota face off against the arch-rival University of Wisconsin in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff game at the old Mariucci Arena in the Dinkytown section of Minneapolis. The goaltender for the visiting Badgers was none other than Mike Richter, the Abington native who went on to win both the Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers in 1994 as well as the World Cup of Hockey with the United States in 1996. Wisconsin’s leading scorer that season was none other than Tony Granato, the former NHLer who, of course, was the head coach of the American squad at the Olympics in South Korea last month.
It was the atmosphere, however, that was, by far, the most memorable thing about the whole affair simply because the old Mariucci Arena was one of those classic collegiate ‘barns’ that had a special character of its own, if not the most modern comforts prevailing in NHL rinks at that time. No spectators behind the goals at either end, wooden bleachers – as compared to individual seats – and good ole’ obstructed view tickets went with the territory. Meanwhile, partly because of the facility’s relatively low ceiling, partly because an occasion as important as playoffs and partly because of the intense border rivalry, itself, the noise was absolutely deafening.
So I’ve always known that collegiate playoff hockey live and in person can truly be once-in-a-lifetime stuff — and I have pictures, which I plan to share with Kram, to prove it, too!
But then, ironically enough, the Penn State Nittany Lions won four straight games against those very same Minnesota Golden Gophers and this development changed everything radically. Now, if Germany’s skate to the silver medal at the PyeongChang Games was viewed as an “Eishockey-Wunder”, then certainly PSU’s accomplishment was something of a minor miracle, too. After all, the Golden Gophers had 14 NHL Draft picks on their roster including star center Casey Mittelstadt, the 1st round selection of the Buffalo Sabres who topped the scoring chart at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship just this past January, whereas the Nittany Lions have only five NHL Draft choices on their squad.
Penn State’s last two wins over Minnesota at the quarterfinal stage of the annual Big 10 Conference tournament lifted the Nittany Lions back up to # 11 on the Pairwise chart and, even though a narrow loss to the # 2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the semifinals dropped head coach Guy Gadowsky’s charges back down one notch. By this time, however, the computer geeks were now saying that PSU were something along the lines of 99.7% certain to qualify for NCAAs, this barring a tidal wave of upsets in all of the various conference tournaments, of course. And # 14 North Dakota’s overtime loss to # 1 St. Cloud State in one NCHC semifinal on Friday night made everything official — it can now be officially stated that the Penn State Nittany Lions will be participating in the 2018 NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Regional Tournament that will be played at the PPL Center in Allentown from March 24th to March 25th.
Can the Penn State Nittany Lions emulate the German Olympic team by going on a riveting run in the 2018 NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament? Will hockey fans here in the Lehigh Valley become subway alumni if necessary in order to help fill up the PPL Center and represent our region well to the rest of the country? Come to the corner of 7th & Hamilton Streets in Allentown next weekend and find out!
Categories: PPL Center Arena