Five for ’15: Penn State Preview

Ben Gotz

Don Lucia joked that it would make a good trivia question.

Which two of the six Big Ten coaches got their start in Fairbanks, Alaska? The answer: Lucia, and Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky.

Lucia spent six seasons at the helm of the Nanooks from 1987-1993, and Gadowsky took over six seasons later and stayed for five years.

But if Lucia had his way, Gadowsky would have been in Fairbanks much earlier.

"Well I actually tried to recruit Guy when I was up in Alaska," Lucia said. "He ended up going to Colorado College. It’s funny that we do have some common ground. I remember when he was really thinking about taking a job in Fairbanks, he called me about it, probably more concerned about his wife would handle it than anything else. I was fortunate my wife was from there so I didn’t have those issues."

Now the two coaches meet again in the Big Ten, Gadowsky's Nittany Lions just two points behind the Gophers.

Besides the coaching connection, here's four other storylines this weekend around the Gophers men's hockey team.

1. Lettieri/Isackson Okay

Desite some injury scares last weekend, it sounds like sophomore forward Vinni Lettieri and senior forward Christian Isackson will both suit up against Penn State.

Lettieri left Saturday's game against Michigan early afler being hit in the helmet with a shot, the second time that's happened to him this year.

Isackson left Friday's game early and the Gophers listed an extra skater on their lineup Saturday in case Isackson couldn't skate, but the senior still played.

And now, Lucia said both are doing fine.

"Good. They both practiced today," Lucia said. "This will be Vinni’s first day of practice today and Isee skated yesterday."

2. Complacency

Tied atop the Big Ten standings, the Gophers are looking to avoid a letdown after climbing their way back into contention.

Lucia wanted to make sure his team remembered there was still eight games left in the regular season. So much so, in fact, that he addressed the team about it.

"That’s something I talked about at practice yesterday," Lucia said. "We haven’t done anything yet. Great, we’ve clawed our way back into contention but there’s eight games to go."

Mike Reilly admitted the Gophers placed a lot of importance on last weekend, knowing another bad series against Michigan would be tough to overcome.

"We knew last weekend was probably the biggest week of the year so far," Reilly said. "If we didn’t come through, produce this last weekend we’d kind of fall out of the standings a little bit."

And now that they did come through, the team is focused on making sure they don't let up.

3. Penn State's Home Ice

In order to keep their momentum going, the Gophers are going to have to win in a tough place to play.

Penn State has lost just one game at home all season, compiling a 10-1-3 record at Pegula Ice Arena.

"Definitely one of the best places to play," Mike Reilly said. "Going there last year was an awesome experience."

The Penn State program is starting to grow up in its third season under Gadowsky. 17 members of the team are juniors or seniors, and while the team has some underclassmen contributing, the upperclassmen for its backbone.

"They’re a team that’s a high-volume shot, they’re going to shoot from anywhere," Lucia said. "Their top end guys now are in that junior, senior range where they’re scoring."

4. R & R

With the home stretch of the season approaching, the Gophers coaching staff is easing off the gas pedal a little.

Monday practices for the team have become lighter, as Lucia said they want to give the players more time off so they feel refreshed.

"They know how our systems are," Lucia said, adding it was more important that the players felt good when they showed up for games.

The Gophers don't have a week off for the rest of the regular season, but Lucia said the team will get Saturday and Sunday off after playing a Thursday-Friday season against Michigan State next week.