Guy Gadowsky and the Penn State men’s ice hockey team will begin their foray into varsity status this weekend, facing off against American International University for a two-game set.
Guy Gadowsky talks strategy with captain Tommy Olczyk at media day.
Friday night, the newly-minted Nittany Lions - last season the club hockey team was referred to as the Icers - will play the first game of their Independent Division I schedule for the 2012-13 season at the Greenberg Ice Pavilion. Saturday, as part of the team’s attempt to spread their new brand across the state, the two teams will do battle at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes Barre.
It’s been a long road for Gadowsky, who has brought in eighteen players since his appointment as head coach last April, five of those being transfers with previous Division I experience. Gadowsky credited assistants Keith Fisher and Matt Lindsay for scouring North America to find the players best suited for the upstart program.
“The situation we are in, it is important to have people who are really hungry to build that foundation and have pride in doing so,” said Gadowsky at media day. “Those are the kind of people we look for.
“As far as hockey, it is very important that we have high hockey IQ. We tend to be a very creative team. We do not really put a leash on the players. We let them go. If you are going to play that way, you have to have smart hockey players.”
Kicking off the season with a Midnight Madness open practice last Friday at 12:01 AM, Gadowsky and the team were pleasantly surprised with how well the turnout was.
“It was such a great experience and great to see, we didn't know what to expect,” admitted Gadowsky. “I think we ended up with over 500 people watching practice. I thought it was tremendous. I think the players were surprised, I don't think they expected that huge turnout.”
With the first official practice just one week ago, the second year coaching staff has been doing all they can to prepare the team for what lies ahead.
“Certainly, I think it's not ideal just to have one week and jump right into our first Division I games,” said the Edmonton native. “I think the guys have been working very hard off the ice with our strength coach and they're allowed to skate on their own; we're allowed to condition the athletes.
Assistant Josh Hand instructs media day practice.
“Certainly, it's a huge challenge with so many new players to address systems and objectives with only one week to go. Fortunately, we're all sort of in the same boat. Obviously the teams that have an established system are at an advantage over us right now.”
Earlier this month Gadowsky tabbed Long Grove (Ill.) forward Tommy Olczyk as the team’s captain. The four-year USHL veteran turns 22 in November, so while he lacks NCAA experience, the sophomore already knows about being a captain from his junior hockey days, and has an idea of how he wants to lead.
“I’m really not the most skilled guy, I can say that, I like to go out and try to work as hard as I possibly can,” said the 5-foot-10 Olczyk. “Block shots, kill penalties, I’d love to score goals. For guys not performing up to standards, I’ll say something to them but I’m not going to yell at them. I’m going to do it the right way - maybe pull them aside - but I do like to yell a little bit and get the boys pumped up.”
One player with NCAA experience is Shorewood (Minn.) native Nate Jensen, who came to Penn State last season after playing 2009-10 with Mercyhurst College. Registering two goals and 14 assists for Mercyhurst as a defenseman, Jensen - now a junior - knows how this Penn State team will take on challenges.
“Well, we’re going to take it one game at a time,” said the assistant captain. “We’re going to get our feet wet. We have a lot of young talent and then some older guys with experience so I think game-by-game we’ll get better. By the end of the year, we’ll play some Big Ten opponents so we’ll see where we’re at with those teams.”