The Penn State hockey team, and its fans, have known for months when it would be christening its new home ice, and up until a week ago everyone thought they knew who would be the opponent.
Thanks to the U.S. government, there are no sure things.
While everyone remained fairly sure, no one would give a 100 percent commitment to the Nittany Lions facing Army to open the season at Pegula Ice Arena.
They only know the game is at 8 p.m. Friday on homecoming weekend.
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“Nothing’s been confirmed, but as far as we’re concerned, we’re preparing for Army just like we have been,” head coach Guy Gadowsky said Tuesday afternoon. “It doesn’t change anything we do.”
Rumors have been circulating for the last week about the game.
There were initial concerns, especially after the U.S. Military Academy canceled soccer games for both the men’s and women’s teams in the middle of last week, but all athletic events went as planned by last weekend for the school, and one of those soccer games has since been rescheduled.
While there have been assurances the Cadets would be in State College on Friday, there also are questions about who would be on the ice should Army not travel from West Point, N.Y.
Are there contingency plans?
“Yep — but we’re preparing for Army,” Gadowsky answered, declining to elaborate on other possible opponents.
“Until they tell us that we’re not playing Army, then we’ll maybe go into those contingencies, which we have in place,” Gadowsky said.
The situation does bring some uncertainty to an otherwise festive and exciting week for the program, which will officially unveil its new $90 million home.
Even Nittany Lion players are trying to ignore the rumors and focus on their handful of preparation days for the season.
“I don’t really know much about that,” sophomore goaltender Matthew Skoff said. “I’ve heard things, but our preparation doesn’t chance because of that. No matter what, if they still don’t come, we’re still going to play a team.”
As Gadowsky pointed out, with so little practice time to lead into the season, the opening game is about his team, and there is very little game-planning for an opponent.
“It really wouldn’t matter if we’re playing someone else,” Gadowsky said. “It’s not going to change what we do.”
Gadowsky knows keeping his players focused will be a tall task Friday night.
With years of buildup and a lot more attention focused on the team, the butterflies will be fluttering and the Nittany Lions will have to work hard to not be worn out emotionally before the puck even drops for the first time.
“I don’t think there’s going to be anything we can do to control that,” Gadowsky said. “I actually think it’s what everybody’s coming to see. It’s going to be high emotion. A lot of people have put a lot of work into this for a lot of years and dreamed a lot of dreams for this to happen. It’s going to be a very exciting night, a very meaningful night.”
While it will be special to the builders of the program, and of the building itself, the Nittany Lion players know they get a key role in the historical moment.
“We want to channel the excitement into positive energy and we’re embracing the moment,” defenseman Connor Varley said.
“Obviously there’s going to be butterflies and excitement,” Varley added. “But I think we’re prepared.”
If you don’t have your tickets yet for Friday’s game, but are willing to pay extra, seats can be gotten. Prices range from $165 to $225 on StubHub.
Hearing the going rate, Gadowsky got an idea.
“My wife might not get to go to the game,” he joked.
“It’s great to hear that,” Gadowsky continued. “I know it’s a very tough ticket to get. That’s a great thing to hear. We obviously wish everybody in this community would get a taste of it. I think it’s going to be a very special night, but unfortunately 6,000 tickets not being enough. That’s a good problem to have.”
Minding the net
Gadowsky said he will not decide on a starting goaltender until after Thursday’s practice.
The team has three quality goalies with Skoff — the No. 1 goalie by the end of last season — prized recruit Eamon McAdam and P.J. Musico.
“It’s going to be a battle,” Skoff said. “That’s how Coach Gadowsky wants it and I think I speak for all three of us when I say I think we all want it to be a battle, because at the end of the day when you compete against the best, it’s only going to make yourself better.”
Gadowsky said he is not worrying about an individual’s style, and whose is best suited for the team or an opponent, but it will be determined in the numbers — who gives up the fewest goals this week in practice.
The team will chart scoring in practices, as well as wins, goals-against averages and many other statistics all season to decide, who will be playing when all season.
“If I’m not playing, it’s because I know I’m not ready,” McAdam said. “... If I’m not in, that means I have to work hard and prove myself more.”