Penn State men’s hockey improving culture ahead of 2022 season opener
It is said that one picture is worth 1000 words.
In the case of Penn State, it is not one picture, but rather one word that is worth 1000 words: “culture.”
Culture can’t be measured on a stat sheet after games, but it is an aspect that impacts the statistics that do appear — most notably, wins.
The Nittany Lions were winning during the 2019-20 regular season, finishing atop the Big Ten standings. Before getting the chance to add onto that success in the Big Ten Tournament and potentially the NCAA Tournament, the rest of the season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The following year, the blue and white regressed during a schedule that was almost entirely conference foes in the midst of the pandemic. With the uncertainties surrounding the season, the Nittany Lions watched their success dwindle to a 10-12-0 record.
As the play on the ice underwent regression, the culture off of the ice also regressed. Defenseman and team captain Paul DeNaples acknowledged the struggles in the culture and how it can help the team this season.
“We have so many guys that have been through our good culture, bad culture and get back up,” DeNaples said. “Not necessarily bad, but it took a dip. So all those guys know what it’s like when it wasn’t at its top.”
The rise back up that DeNaples alluded to occurred at the end of last season when the Nittany Lions found a new gear to push themselves into the Big Ten Tournament with momentum.
That momentum would be crucial for Penn State as it headed to Columbus, Ohio, to face Ohio State in the first round. After losing Game 1, the Nittany Lions rallied to win two in a row to upset the fourth-seeded Buckeyes.
Coach Guy Gadowsky credited the turnaround in team culture to establishing the better play that allowed the blue and white to pull off the first round victory.
“We played our best hockey at the end,” Gadowsky said. “It started with making culture our number one priority and drastically improving that.”
Following their two biggest wins in recent history, the Nittany Lions traveled to Minnesota to face the No. 1 seeded Golden Gophers in an elimination game. Minnesota would pull off the victory, but the fifth-seed stayed close.
It took a third period goal by Minnesota to send Penn State home after a short but impressive run. Besides the improved culture being seen in the improved play, the culture is seen in how the players have reacted to that loss.
“I think it did bring the guys closer together because we all realize what we’re playing for,” senior forward Connor MacEarchern said. “It’s to win a national championship, win the Big Ten and hopefully all of us want to go play professionally after that.”
DeNaples echoes a similar sentiment regarding the Nittany Lions’ goals for the season.
“There’s a reason why we didn’t make it to where we wanted to,” DeNaples said. “So this season, we got to come in better than we did before, which we are doing now, and make sure that we can’t be making mistakes in games like that again.”
An altered mindset is not the only altered part of this team, as the team saw three players depart and seven new ones arrive following its loss to Minnesota. Defenseman Clayton Phillips and forward Adam Pilewicz exhausted their eligibility, while goaltender Oscar Autio transferred to Vermont.
Gadowsky gave credit to the veteran leadership, especially that of Pilewicz, last season and those trying to sustain it this year.
“I think you got to give the team last year a lot of credit, specifically leadership,” Gadowsky said. “Adam Pilewicz, who is no longer here, I think deserves a ton of credit for that,“
Those like Pelwicz have paved the way for the newcomers to feel his leadership through this year's captain group of DeNaples, MacEachern and forwards Connor McMenamin, Tyler Gratton and Kevin Wall.
Not only are the new faces on the team feeding off of the leadership, but the possibilities of chemistry issues, which have a history of being present during turnarounds, have not been a problem.
Forward Ashton Calder was captain and member of the leadership group at North Dakota before transferring to Happy Valley, but is not stepping on the toes of his new teammates.
“I’m not gonna come in and try to take their roles. That’s their role,” Calder said. “I think I can just come in and be myself and show leadership through the way I act and the way I do things.”
For now, the talk around the program is about the culture change, yet it is a matter of seeing if this culture becomes synonymous with a winning culture in Happy Valley.
Justin Ciavolella is a second-year student majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
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