Following football’s lead, the 0-5 Penn State men’s hockey team defeated No. 7 Michigan last Thursday for its first win of the season.
The team showed its trademark grit and offensive ability the Nittany Lions are known for around the college hockey world and reminded fans that, while this probably won’t be the best year the program has seen, they’re always a force to be reckoned with.
Following the departure of offensive phenoms like Liam Folkes and Evan Barratt, along with arguably the best player the program has ever had in defenseman Cole Hults, this year's squad looks pretty different.
Last week, the team started four freshmen on offense and two on defense.
That’s a lot of young talent.
In fact, nine players rostered are brand new to Penn State this year.
While some, like Maine transfer Tim Dougherty and Northeastern transfer Bobby Hampton, are coming in with prior experience, that’s a lot of new pieces to fit into the puzzle.
If anyone is up for that challenge, it’s Guy Gadowsky.
Since the program's inception in 2012, Gadowsky has single-handedly built the program into what it is today.
As the only coach in team history, he is coming off a Big Ten regular season championship and also has the 2017 Big Ten Tournament championship under his belt.
A Big Ten title in your first five years?
Not too shabby for a program so young.
We all knew coming into the year that this was going to be a sort of rebuild year for the team.
Penn State still has veteran goal scorers in Alex Limoges, Aarne Talvitie and Sam Sternschien, and the team still has solid defense in Paul DeNaples and Clayton Phillips.
The Big Ten is consistently one of the wildest conferences in college hockey when it comes to standings and which teams beat each other.
It is entirely possible that this team could pick up steam, and if I’m an opponent, I do not want to see a hot Penn State team late in the season.
The team just proved that it is more than capable of being competitive.
Michigan is being touted as one of the favorites to win the Big Ten and possibly even the national championship, and Penn State routed the then-No. 7 Wolverines 9-5 last week.
It’s important to remember that this team has overachieved basically every season in its existence.
Yes, the last few years have seen a solid roster that “should” have done a lot, but they pretty much backed it up.
It’s really a shame that we will never know how last season would have finished up, because Penn State looked mighty fine heading into the postseason.
But we should only focus on what we have now.
So far, five freshmen have already lit the lamp.
This is crucial for a team that’s built on offensive firepower.
If they don’t score, they can’t win, but putting up nine on Michigan is a good indication that the team is fully equipped to score.
It’s also good to see Kevin Wall, Limoges and Talvitie leading the team in scoring.
When your veterans are doing alright, the team is going to be in much better shape.
Sure, goaltending isn’t the greatest situation, but Oskar Autio is gaining experience with each game he plays and will only get stronger as the season progresses.
After all, he was the backup last season to Peyton Jones and played in just five games and started four.
Jones left big shoes to fill, but Autio is surely up to the task.
If any year was going to be a rebuild, the team should be glad it's this odd, Big Ten-only (and Arizona State) season.
It will be a great test for the team to see how far away they are to really be competitive not only in the conference, but also in the whole NCAA.
I don’t want to speak too soon as the team is 1-5 after all, but if they can get the puck rolling, the Nittany Lions could be a scary team down the road.
Starting the season against Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan is a very difficult task, as all those clubs seem to be powerhouses in the conference this year.
Friday’s series against Arizona State should be a real test and give us a good sense of where Penn State is at.
In summary, we shouldn’t be surprised if this year is a relative dud for the Nittany Lions, but it’s only setting up for a great future.