Baby Steps Continue for Penn State
by Tony Jovenitti/CHN Reporter
PITTSBURGH The best way to build a college hockey program is to play against the best teams in the country. The Penn State program, born just last season, realizes that. The Nittany Lions have already played seven games against nationally ranked teams, with even tougher games coming up.
“It was a great opportunity for us,” Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said after his team fell to No. 7 Boston College in the Three Rivers Classic championship game at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
“I think we’re very fortunate to be in that position, seeing as we’re such a new program,” Gadowsky said. “The more experiences we can have with top, nationally-ranked competition is only going to help in the future.”
The future looks even tougher for the Nittany Lions, as they head back to Happy Valley to face No. 1 Minnesota in conference play. Then, they’ll get a rematch with Boston College later in January.
“The timing is good for us as well,” Gadowsky said. “It doesn’t get any easier.”
So far, Penn State lost to each ranked team it faced. But, after Wisconsin thumped the Nittany Lions 7-1 in Madison, Gadowsky said his team responded the next night with “the best game we've played as a program.”
The Nittany Lions and Badgers traded goals for the first three periods until Nic Kerdiles scored late in the third to give Wisconsin the 4-3 victory. Gadowsky said that effort carried over into the Three Rivers Classic, where Penn State defeated Robert Morris on a late third-period goal by Eric Scheid in the semifinal.
“We saw a lot of things tonight that we did well at Wisconsin and I think we got confidence from the game that we played,” Gadowsky said after Friday’s victory. “You don’t always win when you play a very good hockey game—and we didn’t win against Wisconsin—but we gained confidence by the way we played. That carried over tonight.”
It carried over to the start of the championship game, as well. The Nittany Lions came out of the gate strong against Boston College, outshooting the Eagles 5-1 through the first five minutes, and even taking the early 1-0 lead. The Penn State faithful serenaded the team with chants during the first media timeout.
“I thought Penn State started the game with a little bit of an edge and a little bit of a head start on us,” Boston College coach Jerry York said. “They were winning some puck battles and scored the first goal.”
But Boston College just proved to be too much for the Nittany Lions, as they responded with eight straight goals and took the tournament crown, 8-2.
“I don’t think we took our foot off the gas,” Gadowsky said. “I think we got a little bit tentative when they started to roll. You have to give them a lot of credit. They just made a lot of plays.”
Throughout the rest of the season, Penn State will face Michigan and Minnesota four times each, as well as two more against Wisconsin. If those teams remain ranked, Penn State’s season schedule will feature 18 games against nationally ranked opponents.
Gadowsky said his team learned some valuable lessons in its games against tough opponents so far.
“I think it’s a matter of mental toughness,” he said. “To compete consistently with a team like this, you really have to have a short memory. And forget things that bother you and continue to play your game.”
York said he sees big potential from the young Penn State program.
“I’ve played against Guy’s teams over the years, and I thought it was a terrific choice when they nabbed him as the coach to build the program,” York said. “They’ll just be getting stronger and stronger, and he’ll recruit well.”
York admitted that it will take time and perhaps a few more recruiting classes for Penn State to find itself in the mix of the Big Ten conference race. But he thinks it’s only a matter of time.
“I think Guy has them pointed in the right direction,” York said.