UNIVERSITY PARK — Eamon McAdam admitted to feeling “shocked” when he heard his name called Sunday evening at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
And his mom wouldn’t let go after hugging him as he tried to go down to meet the team that chose him during Sunday’s NHL Draft.
Future teammate Mike Williamson was in much quieter surroundings, following the draft at home with his family and girlfriend, but the thrill was still the same.
“It was a pretty crazy feeling for sure,” Williamson said. “I was just sitting at home, obviously watching all day, and then my name popped up. My family and I were very excited, and it was good news.”
McAdam and Williamson found themselves in the history books of the Penn State ice hockey program — the first Nittany Lions chosen in the NHL Draft. McAdam was picked in the third round, 70th overall, by the New York Islanders. Williamson was a sixth-round selection, 175th overall, by the Vancouver Canucks.
Williamson spoke from his home in Western Canada on a conference call Tuesday afternoon, while McAdam is already on campus taking classes, although he and his family made the drive to the home rink of the New Jersey Devils on Sunday to experience the draft in person, a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” they could not pass up.
McAdam was rated by scouting services as the sixth-best goaltender in the draft, and that was exactly where he was picked, but the two teams showing the most interest in him were the Florida Panthers and Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. The team he had hardly heard from was the one calling his name.
“It was pretty surprising when the Islanders picked me up,” the 6-foot-2 McAdam said. “I really hadn’t talked to them much. To hear my name get called was pretty shocking, and an exciting experience all at the same time.”
While the pair are the first two who are a part of the Nittany Lion program to be drafted, they actually double the number of Penn State players who have been chosen by NHL teams. Forward Max Gardiner was picked by the St. Louis Blues before he enrolled at Minnesota, where he played as a freshman before transferring to Penn State. Also, defenseman Patrick Koudys was selected in 2011 by the Washington Capitals before he enrolled at Rensselaer, where he played for two seasons before his transfer this summer.
“It doesn’t matter what sport — you’re in football, basketball, baseball — good players want to play with good players,” Penn State assistant coach Keith Fisher said of having NHL-worthy players on the roster. “It’s nice to get some top-end recruits, and other top-end recruits are going to want to follow.”
“It will only continue to build,” McAdam said. “Obviously the program’s picking up pretty quick with that many guys already drafted. It truly will turn into a powerhouse school a lot faster than people expect.”
While NHL teams have interest in the athletes, Fisher said for the most part they do not meddle in how the young men are handled. They give suggestions and training pointers, but typically go through the coaching staff and do not communicate much with the players while they are enrolled in college.
“It’s the same thing in recruiting,” said Fisher, who was speaking for the program while head coach Guy Gadowsky was on a recruiting trip. “I’m not going to tell that (juniors) coach how to play that player. There are some lines you don’t want to cross, and NHL teams understand that and it’s the same when we recruit a kid.”
While there is the appeal of playing professionally, fulfilling that dream from when they were little of skating in the NHL, neither McAdam nor Williamson is looking past their commitments to the Nittany Lions.
“I’m still going to be at Penn State ... for as long as it takes,” McAdam said. “I need time to develop. I’m not a pro-ready goalie by any means. It’s almost not even a thought for somebody in my situation.”
“Either way I’m looking to come into Penn State next year full-force, hopefully to be an impact player,” the 6-foot-3 Williamson said. “Then play it out year-by-year there and hopefully everything goes well.”
Both are also looking forward to being part of the foundation of the program, which begins its second season at Division I this fall, joins a Big Ten filled with powerhouse programs and moves into a new home, Pegula Ice Arena.
“It was one of the main reasons I committed to Penn State,” McAdam said. “I’m really excited about being one of the original guys here and hopefully having a big role and really progressing the program at a rapid pace.”
McAdam is from Perkasie, in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and is a life-long Flyers fan. Williamson is from Leduc, Alberta, not far from his favorite team, the Edmonton Oilers.
Having NHL teams call their names has been a thrill, but McAdam and Williamson know they cannot stop preparing now — the Penn State season begins in just three months.
“With the (Islanders’) minicamp only a week away, I guess I’ll keep my head in the clouds for a little while and enjoy the moment,” McAdam said. “When I’m done with that, it’s definitely time to come back down. It’s all about work at this point. This is hardly even the first step in the process to a pro career.”