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Interview with a Nittany Lion: Penn State hockey Q&A

Colin Piatt from Black Shoe Diaries stops by to answer our questions.

COLLEGE HOCKEY: JAN 27 Penn State at Wisconsin Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers (4-2-0) men’s hockey team travels to State College, Pa. for their first B1G conference series of the season against the No. 12 Penn State Nittany Lions (4-1-0) on Thursday and Friday.

Game one on Thursday is set for a 6 p.m. CT puck drop while game two will be an hour earlier at 5 p.m. CT. Both games will air on the Big Ten Network.

This should be a high-scoring exciting series as five of the top-ten point scorers in the B1G play for Wisconsin, including leading goal scorer in the country Cole Caufield (seven goals), and two play for Penn State, including senior forward Nate Sucese who leads the conference (with two others) with 11 points.

Lead hockey writer for Black Shoe Diaries, Colin Piatt, took some time out of his day to answer some questions for us before the series this weekend.

PSU are scoring an awful lot of goals so far this year and already have three separate games scoring five or more. Who are the top threats to light the lamp against Wisconsin this weekend?

Penn State has quite a bit of scoring depth. They can basically roll three lines who are equally capable of putting the puck in the net and can get the occasional goal from their fourth line. But the big names to keep an eye on are the top line (Evan Barratt-Alex Limoges-Liam Folkes). Folkes especially will trigger Wisconsin fans with his overtime goals in the 2017 Big Ten Tournament Championship Game and last year’s opening round that ended Wisconsin’s seasons.

Wisconsin Badgers v Penn State Nittany Lions
Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

After that, Nate Sucese is second in the nation with 11 points in five games, Brandon Biro is close behind with nine points and Denis Smirnov looks to be back to his old self after dealing with injuries/illness the past two years with five points in five games.

The Badgers have been energized by an impressive influx of young, freshman talent this year. Are there any new faces in Penn State’s lineup that we should be on the lookout for?

Penn State has a few freshmen that have adjusted well to college hockey. In the first few games, they had an all-freshman fourth line (Tyler Gratton-Connor MacEachern-Connor McMenamin) that played as well as any line on the team. Though he’s not a freshman, Clayton Phillips has looked great as a transfer from Minnesota. He might be the best skating defenseman on the team and loves to join the attack.

How are the special teams looking this season? On a scale of one to punching the glass in regret, how worried should Wisconsin be if they take a penalty?

For as much talent as Penn State has, the power play can run very hot and cold. The biggest issue has been getting set up in the offensive zone. Since they like to carry the puck into the zone, opposing teams have been able to snuff that out and keep the puck out.

Certain units can also be rather stale, so if the opposing team can recognize the pattern, it’s easier for them to shut it down. It wouldn’t be in Wisconsin’s best interest to take penalties, but they can survive if they catch Penn State on the right night.

As is the case at most levels of hockey, you’ll only go as far as your goalie will take you. Can you give us a preview of who will be between the pipes for the Lions this weekend?

Senior Peyton Jones should be in goal for both games. He had a great freshman season, but wasn’t great as a sophomore or junior. A lot of that had to do with Penn State being bad defensively, which they’ve cleaned up a lot this season. Jones has looked as good as he has since that freshman season as a result. It also seems like he’s playing deeper in his net than the past few years, using his size (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) to his advantage.

How is Stoughton, Wis. native Cole Hults doing this year?

Hults may be Penn State’s best player so far this season. He had a hat trick in the first game of the season and is Penn State’s most complete defenseman. He rarely makes mistakes with the puck and his positioning and stick work on defense is fantastic.

COLLEGE HOCKEY: JAN 19 Penn State at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As a Flyers fan myself, I’ve always been partial to Pennsylvania hockey. How are the local kids doing for the Nittany Lions the season and are there more Pens fans or Flyers fans in State College?

There are only six Pennsylvania natives on the team, but most of them are impact players. Evan Barratt may be the most talented player on the team, Peyton Jones has pretty much every goaltending record for Penn State and Paul DeNaples has formed great chemistry with Cole Hults on the top defensive pairing.

State College probably leans toward Pittsburgh, but among the student population, I’d say it’s pretty close to 50-50 with some Buffalo, Rangers and New Jersey fans scattered in there. (Editor’s note: puke)