Working For the Weekend
Penn State's McDonagh Perseveres From Club Player to D-I
by Jashvina Shah/Staff Writer
Michael McDonagh was a freshman on Penn State’s club hockey team when he heard the school would be getting a Division I program.
With the announcement, coach Guy Gadowsky arrived on campus in McDonagh’s sophomore year.
“That was stressful just because we all had to re-tryout again just because he never saw any of us play [and] he was bringing some of his guys,” McDonagh said.
“That really stood out because of how familiar you were with the team before. You had guys you love, but now in this new situation, this new team, everything was so new and exciting. You had no clue what was going to happen with yourself and any of your friends, if they were going to be a part of the team or if you were as well.”
That was the first time Gadowsky met McDonagh.
“He wasn’t flashy, but you knew what you were going to get. He was a great person, a great student [and] worked extremely hard,” Gadowsky said.
“We had guys coming in this year. He was one of those guys that just probably had it tougher than anybody because we didn’t have a clue who he was.”
After McDonagh stayed with the club during his year-long tryout in 2011-12, Gadwosky brought him into his room and told him he made the team.
“He came here initially to play club hockey and he worked very hard off the ice to get stronger and bigger,” Gadwosky said. “He’s had a great attitude and performed on the ice in practice and in games consistently throughout his whole time here. I have a great deal of respect for him.
“So that was a process. Basically he’s been on a two-year long tryout.”
While McDonagh now plays for Penn State’s Division I team, he wouldn’t have gone to the school if it wasn’t for the club team.
When the Wilmington, Mass., native visited Penn State he was enamored by the school spirit and knew he wanted to be a Nittany Lion.
“I went to a big prep school in Massachusetts and I mean the spirit there was incredible,” McDonagh said. “Just everyone was on the same page and everyone loved the campus and the school. So when I visited Penn State and saw that same emotion from the students and spirit, I was instantly drawn here.”
At the time, McDonagh was being recruited to play hockey by different Division III schools such as Wesleyan, Tufts and Trinity.
“Luckily I researched more and found out [Penn State] had a club team,” McDonagh said. “If they didn’t have a club team than I’m not sure what I would’ve done, to tell you the truth, I might’ve gone to a school that had a hockey program, but it would’ve been a very tough decision.”
So McDonagh joined the team and he recorded 47 points (17g, 30a) over 61 games.
After the transition to Division I, McDonagh played in his first game on Oct. 13, 2012 — which also happened to be Penn State’s first win.
“That was exciting. I think we were pumped up for a month after that, nothing could get rid of our emotional high after that win,” McDonagh said.
As a junior last season, McDonagh appeared in 33 games and finished with seven points (1g, 6a), eight penalty minutes and a plus-1 rating.
“He grows on you,” Gadwosky said. “As a hockey player he doesn’t fly around the ice or take a hundred miles an hour slapshot.
“The more you’re around him, the more you appreciate him, his work ethic is consistent every day. He’s an honest hockey player, meaning he blocks shots, he back checks, he fight in the corners, he’ll take hits to make plays.”
Penn State is now in its first full season of Division I hockey, and McDonagh has played in 10 games this year. The 22-year-old has recorded zero points and has been a healthy scratch for several games throughout the year.
But Gadowsky said he still sees a positive attitude from his forward, who’s becoming more comfortable around Penn State’s bench boss.
“It wasn’t like I met him and was wowed, I became to appreciate him the more I was around him and the more that I saw how consistent he was,” Gadowsky said.
McDonagh attended Phillips Academy in Andover and attended the Winchendon school for one year before joining Penn State and becoming a part of the Division I team.
“It was very stressful,” McDonagh said. “I had a good attitude and kept the smile on, just tried my best day in and day out and it all worked out.
“Each day I had no clue whether I was going to be a part of the team in the future or if I was going to play. It’s just very chaotic in a way, but with a good attitude we got through it as a team. [For] us guys who were able to play Division I hockey, [it’s an] incredible experience.”