The future outlook for Penn State men’s ice hockey appears to have reached new heights after the team spent Thanksgiving weekend competing with one of the finest teams NCAA hockey has to offer.
Despite coming out on the losing end in both contests against Union, the atmosphere surrounding both players and coaches is undeniably positive after the team remained competitive against a squad boasting the No. 8 ranking in the nation.
“It was a good weekend for the team, just to figure out that we can play against teams that are ranked top 10, top 5,” freshman goaltender Matthew Skoff said.
Skoff’s play was a major reason the Nittany Lions were able to remain competitive with a team coming off a berth in the Frozen Four. One of 10 freshman on this first-year varsity team, Skoff recorded 82 saves during the two games, including a career-high 42 on Sunday.
However, Skoff declined to personally take credit for the recent play of the Nittany Lions.
“I think it gives credit to what the coaching staff has done,” Skoff said. “We have a good freshman class here. It speaks a lot about what we can do in the near future, and throughout our careers as Penn Staters.”
One member of that coaching staff, assistant coach Keith Fisher, simply wants his team to remain grounded and focused amid its recent success.
“We have to pay attention to details, not just in practice but in games,” Fisher said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re playing a club team, Division III team, Wisconsin, Minnesota, we have to play our game and play to our abilities.”
Fisher certainly remains focused as he endures what he calls the “vicious cycle” of recruiting in an effort to bring a second straight outstanding freshman class to Happy Valley. Fisher spends much of his time out west, scouting the USHL, North American Hockey League, British Columbia Hockey League, and Alberta Junior Hockey League for potential recruits.
Fisher says that several of the players he recruits have never even heard of Penn State. However, he has many selling points at his disposal in an effort to convince recruits to spend their collegiate careers in Happy Valley. Fisher sells recruits on the excellent academic reputation of Penn State, a new arena that he believes will be the best in college hockey, and strength and conditioning coach Robert McLean, who spent the past two years with the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL before joining Penn State in July.
However, Fisher says his main pitch is the opportunity to come in and immediately contribute for a Big Ten team, due to the youth and inexperience at the varsity level of Penn State’s team.
“Kids want to come in and play. We have spots available,” Fisher said. “The opportunity is there for kids to come in and play a lot, and play a key role right away. We’re starting a Big Ten hockey program that’s very attractive to a lot of kids.”
Even Fisher readily admits that the future of this team appears to be brighter than ever.
“We were in two games with the [number 8] team in the country,” Fisher said. “We’re not at that level yet, but we’re not that far. Hopefully we can take some lessons. We’re learning what it takes to score that goal. Our guys got a good lesson, that if you make mistakes it’s going to go in the back of the net. We’re excited about the future.”