Here are some schedule highlights and games of note:
March 29: Ohio State; April 4: at Maryland; April 11: at Johns Hopkins; April 19: Rutgers; April 25: at Michigan; April 30-May 2: Big Ten Tournament
Penn State had a razor-thin margin for error last spring: Without an opportunity to secure THUNDERDOME!'s automatic invitation to The Big Barbeque, the Lions were forced into a situation where the team needed to assault everything that stood in its path in order to create circumstances conducive to a May adventure. Unfortunately, Penn State faltered where it could not afford to spit a piston: Losses to Loyola (in overtime), Denver, Albany, and Drexel (in triple overtime) were not in balance to Penn State's lone notable victory -- an 8-7 victory over Notre Dame in South Bend. The Lions weren't bad in 2014, but an RPI ranking of 17th combined with a dearth of quality wins and a middling 7-6 record ultimately kept Penn State out of the NCAA Tournament. (Had the Lions progressed to the season's big moment, it would have been the first time in the program's history that Penn State made back-to-back shows.)
2015 provides the Lions with an opportunity that was missing last season: With the Big Ten having the power to shove its champion into the NCAA Tournament regardless of the at-large qualifications of that team, Penn State will, once again, have a safety net under it. The Nittany Lions have the smell of a team that will find its strength at the end of the year given the turnover that State is dealing with (the team is losing about 45 percent of its starts from 2014), and having an opportunity to make a move through the Big Ten Tournament may offer the Lions a chance to extend their season. While the odds may be long for Penn State to accomplish that task, the most important thing for the Lions is that those odds exist.
March 14: at Massachusetts
Penn State will face only one team -- Massachusetts -- that was part of THUNDERDOME! last season. That's somewhat disappointing given how unique THUNDERDOME! rivalries are, but in the overall, the Nittany Lions could not have picked a better former enemy to face: In the last five seasons the Minutemen and Lions have met seven times; Penn State is 3-4 in those seven games and the scoring aggregate between the two teams in those games is 56-56; three of the games have been one-goal affairs with two meetings -- in 2012 and in the 2011 THUNDERDOME! Tournament -- necessitating overtime to create the result; and no team has earned a victory by more than three goals over the other in the last five seasons. There is angry beauty in this series, and it's a good thing that both Penn State and Massachusetts found a way to make it continue in 2015.