While the buzz surrounding the extremely young men’s ice hockey team remains positive, the team is certainly feeling the growing pains that come with the leap from the club level to Division I.
Coming off two competitive performances against an elite Union squad and an 8-3 demolition of club team Arizona State on Friday, the Nittany Lions dropped a Saturday rematch against the Sun Devils, who are the No. 1 ranked team in the ACHA. While games against club teams are classified as exhibitions and therefore don’t count against Penn State’s official record, head coach Guy Gadowsky knows his team needs to learn from disappointing results like these.
“It’s the exhibition aspect. No one was excited to play it,” Gadowsky said. “Not to use this word, but it’s a professionalism aspect. There’s going to be a lot of players who come to the Big Ten because they want to play college hockey, but they [also] want to play in the NHL and professionally. If that’s your attitude, then you have to learn to play [exhibitions] like that. It’s a great mental check, and I’d like to say we learned it, but we won’t know until the next time we have that situation.”
Gadowsky isn’t the only one who noticed that the team didn’t have its usual mojo Saturday night. Junior forward Taylor Holstrom acknowledged that the team may have taken the rematch with the Sun Devils too lightly.
“I think we just didn’t prepare enough, kind of looked over them to this weekend,” Holstrom said. “We can’t just show up and win games. We have to come ready to play, no matter who the opponent is. Consistency is going to be one of our biggest challenges to overcome, so hopefully we’ll learn as time goes on that every game means something.”
Gadowsky hopes that the infusion of another strong recruiting class, which includes several players who are captains of their current teams, will help Penn State achieve the consistency it will need in its new conference.
“That isn’t by coincidence,” Gadowsky said of recruiting players who have experience as captains. “Because we’re so young, it was important to get guys who have automatically good leadership. If you’re the kind of guy who just wants to come in and arrive someplace, you’re probably not the right kind of guy for us. We want people to come in and want to be hungry to be the reason why [our success] happens.”
Gadowsky acknowledges that many people will doubt his team’s ability to step into the Big Ten and be competitive immediately. However, he is certainly not among them.
Gadowsky said most people fail to understand the “secret” of the immense value that Penn State’s student body brings to his program. He expects students to create an atmosphere that is both supportive of his team and difficult for opponents to play in.
“We’re coming in (to the Big Ten) and playing the big dogs for real. I think with a young team, and not having four full recruiting classes yet, many people think this will be a difficult time for us,” Gadowsky said. “But we disagree. We understand where we’re going and we respect them very much. But we’re working very hard this year to make sure that we surprise some people.