Not Done Yet
Penn State Explodes For 10 Goals in NCAAs Debut
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CINCINNATI If you're going to go to the dance, you might as well let it rip.
Penn State has never been shy about doing so, no matter the situation. But coming into the bright lights of the NCAA tournament, the young Nittany Lions, playing in the program's first NCAA tournament, could've been forgiven if they betrayed some of that youth on this stage.
That went out the window quickly, however.
The first three goals Penn State scored were matched by Union.
The next seven were not.
"It’s very special," said senior David Goodwin, who committed to Penn State when it was barely a program yet. "It’s something I’ve dreamt about, to be honest. I don’t know, it will feel a lot better with a win against Denver tomorrow."
The 10-3, high-flying win over Union on Saturday at the Midwest Regional was even more remarkable considering what Penn State had just done last weekend. History had already been made in a number of ways in Detroit, when Penn State reeled off three wins in three days, the last two in double overtime, to capture the Big Ten tournament championship.
Let's just say, it's a good thing Penn State was sent to a Regional that started on Saturday instead of Friday. Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky spoke in glowing terms, again, of the team's strength and conditioning coach, Cam Davidson. He said Davidson had a plan for whether the team played on Friday or Saturday, but Saturday made it a bit easier.
"We never would have won the Big Ten without him, he was the MVP of that tournament, without a doubt," Gadowsky said. "This was the worst week of practice we ever had. We were physically and mentally tired and Cam took them again and told us he had a plan. ... He’s tremendous and invaluable to what we’re doing."
There were times this season — fairly recently, actually — where it didn't seem things would get this far. Which, frankly, would've been perfectly understandable. The story being written was this: Nice season, good job coming close or squeaking into the NCAAs, bright future, we'll see you next year.
But that future is being written now.
"It really felt like that after Erik Autio scored in the Big Ten tournament (the semifinal OT winner), that we really wanted to make the NCAA tournament," Gadowsky said. "When he scored, we knew we were in. I was really surprised after three periods on Thursday and five periods on Friday at how the guys played in the first period Saturday, let alone the fifth period. ... I get the sense that they aren’t satisfied with last weekend in Detroit."
Goodwin is second on the team in scoring, but there's only one other senior in the top 15. Freshman Denis Smirnov has 18 goals, including one Saturday. Diminutive Nate Sucese has had an under-the-radar stellar rookie year, 17 goals including one Saturday. Sophomore Chase Berger had two against Union. Six-foot-7 Nikita Pavlychev is still growing into his body, but his skills have already come a long way and he will be a force.
Then there's the defensemen, mostly young, all contribute to the offense, and five of the six in Saturday's lineup are six feet or taller. Sophomore Vince Pedrie has 29 points. Freshman Kris Myllari had a bomb of a shot and goal and three points against Union, and has 17 points. His progress has been apparent.
"We lost Kevin Kerr a couple months ago for the year and so what we asked Kris Myllari to do was basically play his role overall and take Kevin Kerr's role as well," Gadowsky said. "I don't think it was fair of us to do that. That's what we did, and he handled it perfectly. ... From day one, been one of our top penalty killers. I believe he's second on our team in blocks and now with the added ice time and the added roles, we can really see his offensive flare. He's been great. And I know he got three points but Kris Myllari doesn't have to get a point all season to be a tremendous player. He processes defensively so quickly. He's really hard to play against and he does it in a very cerebral way. He's such a physical force."
All of these guys figured to be a year away from being a true powerhouse still. Yet here they are, unfazed.
"I think the biggest thing is we’re really not too concerned about that stuff," Berger said. "I don’t think we’ve ever talked about having inexperience. I think we were doubted a little bit all year and we kind of like that mentality. We don’t really worry about what other people say and about our chances. We try to win games."
Said Gadowsky, "I think David Goodwin had a great point when speaking about experience. I think last weekend gave everyone a lot of experience so it’s a blessing to go through that, win or lose. It’s great that they came out so well on the other side. It’s a physically and mentally demanding challenge. It gave them all a ton of experience and I don’t think we have a freshman on our team right now."
How far Penn State has come was not lost on its opponent.
"They are a team that had a lot of freshman, so they are going to be a powerhouse for years to come," Union coach Rick Bennett said. "The whole staff has done a really nice job, so I wish them luck coming up."
They will need it against Denver, the top team in the country, in Sunday's Midwest Regional Final. But they are playing with house money, and won't stop playing their game.
Gadowsky has never coached any other way. Not with Alaska-Fairbanks, not with Princeton, not now.
It should be noted, too, that in a season of firsts, it was also the first NCAA win for Gadowsky, who took two Princeton teams to the dance. In fact, perhaps it gets the sour taste out of his mouth of a bitter 2009 defeat, when Princeton led by two goals in the closing minute only to see Minnesota-Duluth rally to tie and win in OT.
"It’s nicer than losing, I’ll tell you that," Gadowsky said. "It’s nice to be a part of this team. I’m thrilled to be a part of this team and feel very fortunate."