Guy Gadowsky recruited his team with a certain type of player in mind.
The head coach said he wanted players with a specific attitude to lead the team into its first NCAA Division I season because they will lay the foundation for the future of Penn State men’s hockey.
“You want players that really appreciate passion of the student body and want to be a part of something special — not someone that just wants to arrive somewhere,” Gadowsky said. “The situation that we’re in, it’s very important that we get people that really are hungry to build that and want to have that pride in building the foundation.”
That’s not the only thing Gadowsky looked for in his players. He said he also wanted guys who understand and appreciate what Penn State is about, along with a good education.
Gadowsky said he didn’t ignore their ability to play hockey, either, and pointed out he wanted players with a good hockey IQ.
“We tend to be a very creative team,” Gadowsky said. “We don’t put a lot of leashes on our players, we let them go. And if we’re going to play that way we have to have smart hockey players.”
Gadowsky mentioned newly appointed captain Tommy Olczyk as an example of the kind of hockey player he looked for.
He said he’d never forget what Olczyk said during his recruiting trip.
“When he came in… he made a point to say, ‘You know I can’t wait ten, fifteen years down the road to look back at what we accomplished,’ ” Gadowsky said. “He has a real pride in building that and a commitment to that.”
Gadowsky said the players he shied away from were ones who wanted to go to a more established program.
“We want to find the players like Tommy Olczyk that want to come here and who are really hungry to build something,” Gadowsky said.
Olczyk, who was named captain last week, said he’s definitely nervous to lead a historic team, but he said he’s more honored than anything.
“I’m not the most skilled guy, I can say that, but I like to go out and try to work as hard as I possibly can,” Olczyk said.
The sophomore forward said he wants to lead the team mostly by example, but admitted he does like to yell a little bit to get the team pumped up.
Gadowsky said building a new program is a big challenge, with a lot of behind-the-scenes work that people don’t see. The head coach knows how to build an entire program based on the work he’s done in the past with Princeton and Alaska.
Before coming to Penn State, Gadowsky coached the two teams and built them into successful programs.
The Edmonton, Alberta native started as head coach of Alaska when the Nanooks had not had more than 14 wins in the past five seasons since joining the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. Gadowsky led the team to its first 20-win campaign and set school records for team grade-point average, wins and game attendance.
Gadowsky eventually moved to Princeton when the Tigers had only won eight games in two seasons. He successfully improved their win total each season and led the team to the Eastern College Athletic Conference hockey tournament and Ivy League crowns. Gadowsky was a finalist for the Spencer Penrose award, which recognizes Division I hockey’s top coach, while coaching the Tigers.
“It’s a process and you really have to have a clear vision of that process from starting out and where you want to be along the line,” Gadowsky said of starting Penn State’s first Division I program. “It needs constant attention, it’s like a garden — you can’t ignore it.”
Olczyk said Gadowsky is one of the most passionate guys on the ice when he’s coaching.
“He’s a guy that gets the players going,” Olczyk said. “It’s a lot of fun when he’s out there — to make plays, get goals, back check and all that good stuff.”
The Nittany Lions play their first game in NCAA Division I on Friday at 7:30 p.m. against American International. Assistant captain Nate Jensen said they’ve been practicing for a month now and are excited to get their jerseys on at Friday’s game.
“[There’s] a little bit of nerves,” Jensen said, “but we’re pretty excited to get out there and play a couple games, get a couple hits in, get the crowd involved. It’ll be a fun night for us.”