Division I men’s hockey has finally arrived at Penn State after two years of anticipation.
The “History Will Be Made” commercials that air in the spring months during NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs will become applicable to Penn State tonight when the puck drops at 7:30 p.m. in the Greenberg Ice Pavilion against American International College.
In September 2010, it became official when Penn State announced an $88 million gift from alumnus Terry Pegula would allow Division I hockey to become reality.
It will be the first time in 65 years that Penn State has played varsity hockey, but the first time it will ever play in Happy Valley.
Gadowsky said his goal was to have the hardest working team in college hockey.
Gadowsky also said the little things will add up and it is going to be fun to watch.
“We are to be a very tough team to play against,” Gadowsky said. “We are going to be good in the gritty areas, we’re going backcheck and be physical.”
Team captain and sophomore forward Tommy Olczyk and assistant captain, junior defenseman Nate Jensen have bought into that mentality.
“Nate and I both know the systems and we know the style that Coach Gadowsky likes,” Olczyk said. “We’re two guys that can go out there and guys will look up to us, and if we’re doing something hopefully they’ll follow us. We’re just going to try to do our best leading by example.”
Despite not having much time to work on their systems, both Olczyk and Jensen believe it will not change much from last year’s system at the ACHA club level.
Gadowsky also said he thinks Penn State will have one major advantage over other teams — the fans.
For Jensen, the crowd is something he is looking forward to most.
“There’s a little bit of nerves, but we’re pretty excited to get out there and play a couple games, get a couple hits in and get the crowd involved,” Jensen said. “It’s going to be a fun night for us.”
Uncharted Territory for Olczyk
Olczyk has played hockey at a lot of different levels, but not at the Division I level. He will add it to his resume this weekend.
Jensen, who has Division I experience, hopes his experience will help his captain. While at Mercyhurst, Jensen played against hockey powerhouses Michigan and Boston College.
Olczyk said he will not know how different it will be until he steps on the ice and faces “live bullets.”
“It’s just a matter of getting in there, getting reps, making the most out of every shift, working hard and then getting into a rhythm and realizing that it is a lot different than the past here,” Olczyk said. “The hockey is going to be more physical. It’s going to be faster so it’s just a matter of getting better every week in practice and obviously getting better in the games every week.”
Behind Enemy Blue Lines
American International College head coach Gary Wright said his team is looking forward to being Penn State’s first D-I opponent.
Wright said there are a lot of unknowns for both teams, as neither team had a preseason exhibition game .
But tonight’s meeting will not be the first time Wright has coached opposite Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky.
In January 2005, as head coach of the Princeton Tigers, Gadowsky guided his team past the Yellow Jackets, 4-2.
“He has had well-known success at building programs,” Wright said. “It was a big reason why he was chosen to be the head coach at Penn State.”
The Yellow Jackets’ record last season was indicative of how they played “down the stretch,” Wright said. AIC had an 8-26-3 record but almost upset Robert Morris (PA) in the Atlantic Hockey Association tournament. The Yellow Jackets lost in overtime in the third game of a best of three series.
AIC’s lineup is full of veterans including team captain and leading goal scorer Adam Pleskach. The senior forward scored 16 goals while racking up 14 assists for 30 points last year.
“Adam scores big goals but he is also very [talented] defensively,” Wright said. “He plays with a ton of energy and is very hard worker. I think he has a lot of good attributes rolled into one.”