Any hockey fan likes to watch a 6-foot-4, 200-something pound defenseman check a player into the boards. It’s the kind of hit that gets long-standing “Ooo’s” from the crowd, followed by a cheer of approval.
Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said he values that kind of defenseman, but there’s also another type he appreciates. This guy is one who has vision.
A former forward, Gadowsky said this type of guy is the one he enjoys playing with.
“There’s a difference,” Gadowsky said. “There are some [defensemen] that will make plays, but will always be rimming it for you or firing at your ankles or whatever, but he’s a guy that works hard and will take a hit and has vision and will always give you an easy puck.”
The player Gadowsky described is 5-foot-11, 194-pound Luke Juha, one of the team’s top defensemen. Juha learned in early January he wouldn’t be able to finish his season due to an abdominal injury, which sophomore captain Tommy Olczyk described as a “spleen issue.”
Assistant coach Matt Lindsay said Juha still comes around the rink and does everything he can to help out. At games, Juha wears a suit and tie, like any other injured player, watching over the game and sometimes recording hits or battles.
“I know he has to do certain things, and there are things he has to do off the ice to keep himself in shape and what not, but he’s always around the rink, always around the guys,” Lindsay said. “So I think that’s good for him, and it’s good for us. He’s a nice, personable kid and we like having him around.”
Falling into Penn State
Luke Juha didn’t plan to play NCAA hockey at Penn State, but he did think about playing at Princeton — where Guy Gadowsky and his staff coached at the time.
Although, the Mississauga, Ontario native committed to his first choice, Clarkson University, other things happened that changed his mind.
“I was supposed to go there in 2011 and unfortunately the coaches were laid off and they were a huge part of why I decided to go there,” Juha said.
He said he was happy with his commitment to Clarkson, but had to pursue his other options after the coaching situation.
So he called Gadowsky, who had become the head coach at Penn State.
Gadowsky said it felt great to get him back. He said Princeton didn’t offer athletic scholarships, which was important for Juha in the recruiting process.
“That’s a big factor, so we were very disappointed to lose him, but certainly understood why,” Gadowsky said. “But he’s the type of defenseman to have to become very successful. We were very thrilled to get him back.”
Juha said that when he came down to visit Happy Valley, he loved it. He said he has no regrets and mentioned how the coaches, his teammates and academics are amazing.
“The thing I’m most impressed with is the student body,” Juha said. “They’re so into the sports and they have so much pride in the school. I think that really soaked into me as one of the things I really love most about this school.”
Fighting through injuries
When Luke Juha was injured in the beginning of January, it wasn’t the first time he’s fought adversity. He also missed the majority of his 2011-2012 season with the Vernon Vipers of the British Colombia Hockey League after he hurt his scaphoid in his wrist, which was misdiagnosed for six weeks.
“I’ve been through [an injury],” Juha said, “but I also think it’s a little bit harder the second time around because I was looking forward to the season so much. Unfortunately, that’s what happens in hockey — you put your body on the line and this stuff happens.”
Although he’s been facing another injury this season, his teammates and coaches said that he’s been dealing with it extremely well.
Sophomore captain Tommy Olczyk said Juha is a very “happy-go-lucky guy,” whom he rarely sees upset.
“Even when he received the news that he was going to be out the whole year… he still found a bright way to look at it, which it’s a pleasure to be around people like that,” Olczyk said.
Lindsay echoed Olczyk and said Juha has a good attitude. He said Juha realizes he has a significant injury, which means he has to be safe and responsible.
The assistant coach said Juha’s going about his injury “the right way.”
“You never want to say a kid’s taking an injury well, because you know at the end of the day they’d much rather be out there,” Lindsay said. “But I think he has a really good attitude about it and realizes it is what it is and he has to let his body heal and be ready to go when he’s healthy.”
For the future
Lindsay said Juha has a bright future ahead of him playing hockey.
Before he was injured, the defenseman led the team in blocked shots, with 24. A month later, he still sits in the top-three in blocked shots. Juha played in 19 games this season, where he registered seven points (one goal, six assists).
“He’s has some things that not too many hockey players have, especially defensemen in terms of his ability to see the ice and move the puck,” Lindsay said.
Juha said he’s wanted to make hockey a career since he was in high school, when things started getting serious.
For him, playing in the NHL is his main goal. He said if that doesn’t pan out, he’d play a few years in Europe and see where that takes him. If all else failed, he said he’d have a great education at Penn State, where he plans on majoring in finance.
“[The NHL] is always going to be my goal, even if I decide to play in the NCAA,” Juha said. “It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid to do that.”
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