A Lions' Pride
Penn State Exits Season With Heads Held High
by Tony Jovenitti/CHN Reporter
ST. PAUL, Minn. When a team loses a one-goal game to a conference rival for the fourth time in a row, some coaches would be disappointed — especially when that loss ends his team’s season. But Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky seemed content after his team fell to Wisconsin, 2-1, in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament.
“I’m disappointed we came up a little short today but extremely proud of how far we’ve come,” Gadowsky said.
The Nittany Lions opened their Big Ten conference play in Madison back on Dec. 6 and fell, 7-1, at the Kohl Center. By the time March rolled around, Penn State was able to push Wisconsin to the brink. The Badgers earned a 4-3 victory on March 7 and a 3-2 overtime win the next night.
“The difference between our first Big Ten game and the one that we just played — there’s a huge difference,” Gadowsky said. “There’s just a difference in confidence and a difference in our experience.”
In the first four months of the season, Penn State lost five games by four goals or more. But since their first Big Ten win, a 4-0 win over Michigan on Feb. 8, the Nittany Lions' only big loss was 5-1 against top-ranked Minnesota on Feb. 28.
February and March saw the Nittany Lions take all five Big Ten opponents to the brink, with one-goal games against Minnesota, Michigan State and Wisconsin, along with victories over Ohio State and Michigan.
“I think if you ask any of the guys, they’ll agree that they feel a lot more mature than they did at the start of the year,” Gadowsky said.
Penn State goalie Matthew Skoff also saw the team improve from his vantage point in the crease. Through Feb. 7, Penn State allowed an average of 4.04 goals a game. But through their last 13 games, it only gave up 2.69 goals per game.
“It was a full team effort, defensively improving throughout the whole year,” Skoff said.
Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves also noticed improvement from the Nittany Lions.
“They give themselves a chance to win because they play so hard,” Eaves said. “That’s their foundation.”
Michael Mersch, who scored both of the Badgers goals on Friday, agreed that Penn State became a tough team to play against.
“They put in a good effort every single time,” he said. “They’re a good team.”
Since Penn State’s roster for Friday’s game did not feature a single senior, Gadowsky feels good about his squad’s future.
“I’m extremely optimistic,” he said. “As I said before, it’s an incredible honor to play in this league. And I thin Penn State, with what we have in terms of our venue and our atmosphere, deserves to be right up there in the Big Ten.”
In addition to improved play, Penn State also got some national television exposure to help build their program. Thirteen of the Nittany Lions’ games — including all three wins over Michigan — were featured on national television.
After Thursday’s double-overtime win against Michigan, winning-goal scorer Zach Saar said his team has a list of goals to achieve as a program. The Nittany Lions scratched off several of those in just their first year competing in the Big Ten — including first conference win, first Big Ten win on the road and first postseason win.
“This was a tremendous experience, and we’re very proud of the strides that our team took,” Gadowsky said.