By standard measures it was a step back and a disappointment.
But the Penn State men’s hockey team was living by a different standard this past season, and while moral victories are usually shunned by coaches and athletes, they had to be accepted this season.
Yes, the Nittany Lions just finished their season last weekend with a mere 8-26-2 record, falling well short of the 13-14 mark from their first campaign as a Division I program.
This season, however, was spent in the deep end of the pool.
There were a lot of good teams, only a few of lower quality and hardly anything came easy.
The season was all about laying the foundation for the future, about putting pieces in place each week, and the metrics used were not wins and losses but about progress in areas, and whether Penn State was competitive.
In those respects, it really was a success.
“Really proud of how far, of how hard the guys worked during the season to improve as vastly as they have,” coach Guy Gadowsky said. “It shows statistically, it shows on the scoreboard.”
When you start beating top-10 teams, and losing one-goal contests against top-five teams, then you are not that far off.
“We definitely saw a lot of rough times,” team captain and junior forward Tommy Olczyk said. “Just like our coaches have confidence in us, we have confidence in them. We believe they put us on the right path to do what we need to do in order to be successful.”
The season was a winding road, from the opening of the team’s stunning new home, to a long losing skid in the middle to a number of exciting wins over the final weeks.
The wins should come more often next season, and it will be thanks to the building blocks laid over the last two years.
“I’m very happy with where we are in the program,” Gadowsky said. “We have tremendous people both as student-athletes and as a staff.”
With that, here are one observer’s opinions of the best — and worst — of the 2013-14 hockey season.
MVP (on the ice)
Typically the MVP goes to a team’s top scorer, or maybe a goalie who racked up shutouts galore, but Brooks gets recognized for something that doesn’t show up in the box score. During the Nittany Lions’ first Big Ten win over Michigan on Feb. 8, defensemen Nate Jensen and Luke Juha were each lost to concussions in separate incidents. With the blue line depleted, Gadowsky asked Brooks, a forward who had a little experience playing in the back while in juniors, to shore up the defense for the rest of the game. The night ended with a 4-0 shutout, and Brooks stayed on the blue line for another three weeks.
“He did a tremendous job,” Olczyk said. “… He went back there in the middle of the game, and it was like he was playing there all year.”
MVP (off the ice)
“He was top form the last two games,” Glen said of Skoff. “He’s a heck of a netminder. For him it’s about work ethic. He exhibited that every day on and off the ice and it’s something that the whole team looks towards.”
Skoff was expected to battle Eamon McAdam for the job. The pair shared the No. 1 spot at the beginning of the season, trading starts, but McAdam had some issues. Six times in 10 starts he allowed a goal in the first five minutes, often on the first shot he faced, and he eventually fell to third on the depth chart behind P.J. Musico, not getting a minute of ice time after Feb. 7.
Best defensive anchor
“I absolutely love the atmosphere at Pegula Ice Arena,” Gadowsky said. “The student body is everything we thought it would be in here and more.”
“We all want that one back,” Gadowsky said. “That one stung.”