Editors note: This is the first installment looking at the state of the Penn State hockey program upon completion of club-level play. A question and answer with head coach Guy Gadowsky is up next.
Upon his hiring on April 25, 2011, Guy Gadowsky was awarded the all-encompassing task of leading the Penn State men’s ice hockey program from competing as a club team and elevating it to NCAA Division I status.
Before dropping the puck on any NCAA game however, the program had to compete in their swan-song ACHA season – complete with four Division I transfers and another four players Gadowsky brought in. Throughout a season complete with a full ACHA schedule, two NCAA Division III opponents – one of those which happened to be outside at Citizens Bank Park – it was an interesting experience for the veteran 16-year head coach.
“To be honest, the seniors did a great job because with the unique dynamic we had it would have been a very awkward year, but I give the guys total credit they did very well,” Gadowsky said of his players. “Also the progress we made in how we represent ourselves off the ice as a team was tremendous, and will definitely benefit our team going forward.”
One of the players brought in by the first-year head coach was 22-year-old forward Taylor Holstrom, the 2010-11 Atlantic Hockey Association’s Rookie of the Year at Mercyhurst College before making the switch to Blue and White. Though it was technically a step down in competition for the west coast native, he wasn’t expecting the level of competition the Icers faced.
“I was surprised by the level of play here,” said Holstrom, who was third on the team in points with 34. “Maybe the game was a tad bit slower but it was a great year to get to know Coach Gadowsky, the guys on the team, and learn the way coach wanted to play.”
Almost a year into the job, Gadowsky hasn’t had much time to slow down, between recruiting, coaching, and administrative work, the 45-year-old husband has his trademark all over the young program.
“There are a bunch of meetings, paperwork, so we are keeping busy for sure,” Gadowsky admitted of the offseason. “We are setting the foundation as far as the administration goes, where we want to go with things. Any time you get a chance to do long-range planning it is fun.”
Already with ten players signed in the class of 2012 and a few more signatures coming in the spring signing period, Gadowsky understands the importance of not landing too many players at once. The Edmonton native knows scholarships must be saved for future classes, but also wants to be able to compete this upcoming season. He will have 28 players at his disposal for the transition year – 13 class of 2012 freshman, 11 former Icers, and five Division I transfers will make up the roster this fall.
Though the 2011-12 season was played in the antiquated Greenberg Ice Pavilion – the 12-13 NCAA independent campaign will be played there too – Gadowsky was very impressed with the fan support this year.
“I have been so unbelievably impressed with the student body here, I wish they got more of the credit that they deserve. If you look at not only the support we got at the club games this past year, but with the passion all sports are supported on this campus, to what was done at THON, they are incredible,” he said.
“I really liked the amount of knowledgeable hockey fans I’ve encountered – not just Icers but NHL fans as well.”
Echoing the same sentiment, Holstrom has thoroughly enjoyed his first year on campus, especially with the strong hockey following Penn State has.
“The fan support was really growing too that was the coolest part about it,” admitted Holstrom, who is hoping students will stand all game in the new arena, akin to football games. “I started seeing hockey stuff pop up in the stores and seeing people wearing it around campus. The entire year almost every game was sold out, that was really impressive.”
Following this independent varsity season, Penn State will be joining the newly formed Big Ten hockey conference in 2013-14, and will do so in style, moving into the brand new Pegula Ice Arena. Though construction has already started despite an official groundbreaking date of April 20, the Pegula Ice Arena is scheduled to be ready by September of 2013, in time for the start of the season.
“I cannot wait to see the students in the Pegula Ice Arena, I mean they did a great job in Greenberg Ice Pavilion but wait until you see this place, it is going to be rocking,” said an obviously excited Gadowsky. “They finished blasting last week, they are starting the construction phase of it. I drive by every couple of days to take a peek and am very excited thinking about the future.”
Holstrom and his teammates can’t wait for the rink, either, but the 5-foot-9 sophomore is optimistic for this upcoming season of independent NCAA Division I play.
“I think we are going to surprise some people. We aren’t going to go down with out a fight next year, and I think we are going to have enough talent on the team to compete. We’re young, I think we’re going to turn some heads.”