Penn State Men’s Hockey Season Preview
It was fun while it lasted, but the idea of being a brand new Division I program is gone for the Nittany Lions. Everyone in college hockey knows who the Nittany Lions are now that they have a season in Division I hockey as an independent under their belts.
It’s now a matter of what this team can do for an encore with a target on their back in the new Big Ten Hockey conference (http://bit.ly/18QWLOi). This is coming after program defining wins on the road at Michigan State and Wisconsin on national television plus a statement win against Ohio State in the Three Rivers Classic last season.
“Those wins probably came a year ahead than anybody thought might even be possible,” said Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky. “I don’t know if it necessarily raised the bar, but it certainly has accelerated the process for what people think is going to happen.”
Even after the Nittany Lions first Division I season that saw them go 13-14 and open up a few eyes in the college hockey world, it’ll be a difficult task at hand to fight for a winning season. Fans might have to be a little bit patient with this Penn State team as it faces a very difficult Big Ten schedule and out of conference schedule. This includes home games at Pegula Ice Arena against predominant college hockey powerhouse and 2012 National Champions Boston College and 2013 Frozen Four participant UMass Lowell.
Gadowsky continues to impress with his high-caliber recruiting by spreading across North America to find the best talent to come to “Hockey Valley”, bringing in a talented 2013 recruiting class. Out are club carry overs Brian Dolan, Michael Longo, Rich O’Brien, George Saad, Eric Steinour, Justin Kirchhevel, Bryce Johnson and Dom Morrone. In are nine new faces that include seven freshman and two transfers, with three of the new Nittany Lions being NHL draft picks in Mike Williamson, Patrick Koudys and Eamon McAdam.
The others that round out the list of nine are Zach Saar, Ricky DeRosa, David Thompson, David Goodwin, Eric Scheid and Dylan Richard.
But none of those stand out and come in with more hype than McAdam. The freshman netminder from Pennsylvania spent three seasons with the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL and was a 2013 third round selection of the New York Islanders at 70th overall. His skill plus accolades such as MVP at the USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in January and participating in the USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game in 2012, make McAdam probably the most heralded recruit during Gadowsky’s short tenure at Penn State.
Other than McAdam, two other names to keep an eye on in the new crop of Nittany Lions will be Richard and Saar. Richard, who has a knack for finding the back of the net, led the Spruce Grove Saints of the AJHL with a team leading 22 goals and 42 points last season en route to being a a finalist for the AJHL’s Old Time Hockey Players Trophy for league MVP.
On the other hand, Saar is a perfect blend of Gadowsky’s system of fusing physicality, size and scoring like Max Gardiner and Casey Bailey showed last season. Listed officially at 6’4”, 235 pounds, Saar racked up 123 total penalty minutes in 51 games played between the Des Moines Buccaneers and Muskegon Lumberjacks during the 2012-2013 season. Gadowsky referred to him on media day as “very well put together, and someone that can move and create havoc.”
The two transfers, Scheid and Koudys, both bring completely different styles of play but their previous NCAA experience at Alaska Anchorage and R.P.I., respectively, make them key assets for a team that is still relatively inexperienced. Koudys will shore up the Nittany Lions blueline with his size at 6’3” and Scheid his two-way style.
Being a young team on paper with nine few faces to the roster, a familiar sight will be returning in the most important leadership role as Tommy Olczyk will return with the “C” on his sweater for the second season in a row. He’ll continue to be a staple on the Nittany Lions penalty kill that clicked at a solid 85 percent last season and as a third or fourth line role player.
In terms of other key returning players, one guy stands out among the rest and that’s David Glen. He was arguably the biggest bright spot for last year’s Nittany Lions after finishing third among all NCAA rookies in goals with 16. He also led the team in plus/minus at plus-9, shots with 117, 57 penalty minutes and a team-high .584 faceoff percentage. Subsequently, Glen was voted as an assistant captain for this season by his fellow teammates after an eye opening freshman year where he exhibited leadership qualities both on and off the ice.
“He’s a ‘hockey player’, said Gadowsky on Glen. “Everything that doesn’t necessarily show up on the score sheet he does so well. “
It was the line of Glen, Kenny Brooks and Curtis Loik that built instant chemistry with each other and resulted in Gadowsky “go-to” line for most of last season. Out of Penn State’s 74 total goals as a team, that line connected 15 times in which one of them was the scorer and at least one of the trio got an assist on the goal. Seven of those instances alone came where Glen was the scorer and Brooks was the lone assist. So more likely than not, expect Gadowsky to get the band back together and keep that line intact.
Even more so offensively, Max Gardiner, Taylor Holstrom and Casey Bailey started to build a strong bond as a unit beginning at the Three Rivers Classic against Robert Morris. Bailey came on with a late surge and finished the season as the team’s leader in points with 27 and second to Glen in goals with 14. Holstrom also found himself in some late season heroics, scoring the game-winner in East Lansing on January 26 to beat Michigan State 3-2 and a two goal game that included the overtime winner in the upset win at then #18 ranked Wisconsin.
Six defensemen in Mark Yanis, Connor Varley, Luke Juha, Peter Sweetland, Nate Jensen and Joe Lordo will return for another go on the Nittany Lions blueline. In a position that requires stability, four of the six appeared in at least 20 of the 27 games last season despite having to dig deep into the defensive depth chart down as many as four regulars to injuries towards the end of the season.
Yanis and Juha were two players that were sidelined due to injuries that resulted in missed time; Yanis a broken ankle and Juha an abdominal jury. Expect both to return healthy and play key roles on defense. Yanis brings with him a physical presence and will be an essential power play point man and Juha’s all-around play making abilities and vision on the ice.
“In terms of the depth, it’s night and day,” said Gadowsky on this year’s defensive corps compared to last season.
In the last line of defense, Gadowsky will return sophomore netminder Matt Skoff, who undoubtedly showed that he can hold his own at the Division I level with a 9-8-0 record, 2.48 goals-against average and .921 save percentage last season in 17 starts in net. Yet with the highly touted McAdam now in the fold, it’s not a bad problem for Gadowsky to have two netminders capable of a starting role battling it out for more starts in between the pipes. So it will be interesting to see will come about in this goaltending dilemma that includes Skoff, McAdam and PJ Musico.
“Of course there’s individual battles,” said Skoff. “At the end of the day you come to Penn State to compete against the best.”
In addition, five Nittany Lions received a crash course of what it’s like at the professional ranks with invites to respective NHL development camps all across the league during the offseason. Skoff made an appearance at Philadelphia Flyers camp, Casey Bailey with the Boston Bruins and McAdam (New York Islanders), Williamson (Vancouver Canucks) and Koudys (Washington Capitals) with their respective NHL teams that own their rights. 13:50
“It was incredible being able to play with some of those guys and just getting to meet that staff,” said Bailey. ”I think getting that experience is going to help me a lot this season and throughout my career.”
Ross Insana is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.