It was meant to be a way to honor Penn State students and its athletic programs, but things got turned in the wrong direction.
So, for a fourth day, the university and the Nittany Lion hockey program were left explaining the decision to add three small numbers to the sides of each of the players’ helmets.
Friday afternoon, the NCAA restored 112 victories taken away from the Penn State football program as part of its punishment in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. The decision gave former coach Joe Paterno 409 career wins once again, moving him back to the top of Division I’s all-time victory list.
To commemorate the decision, members of the hockey team had “409” stickers on their helmets for their game against Michigan State on Friday night.
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However, the decision was greeted with mixed reviews, some quite critical, and a number of awkward conversations have ensued for coach Guy Gadowsky and Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour, among others.
As they prepare for games against Northern Michigan at 7 p.m. Friday and 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Pegula Ice Arena, Gadowsky and members of the team faced questions about it again Tuesday, although the coach didn’t think his team would be distracted by the fuss.
“They knew fully what our intentions were,” Gadowsky said. “It was all … to support a student body that’s done such great things for a lot of great causes, including child abuse.”
What had to be clarified Tuesday was who was behind the move to add the stickers to the helmets.
After Friday’s game, Gadowsky said, “It was a group decision,” and subsequent interviews and stories made it seem as if it was the desire of the team members.
That story has since changed.
“We’re just players,” sophomore forward David Goodwin said Tuesday. “That was a decision made by someone higher than us. We didn’t really — we just went with it. It’s unfortunate there’s been some negative feedback about it.”
The athletic department also sent out a clarification statement Tuesday about who was involved in the decision, and an athletic department spokesman said the idea and decision came from both the hockey and athletic departments.
“It has been erroneously reported that Coach Gadowsky said the decision was made by student-athletes,” the statement said. “That was never said. The decision was approved by members of athletic administration, but not by Sandy Barbour.”
The web became tangled the last few days in a number of ways.
A post on Twitter extremely critical of the decision drew a direct reply by Barbour: “Agree with you. Inappropriate and insensitive. It’s been corrected.”
She has since softened her stance on the topic and had a number of conversations with Gadowsky about the issue. Barbour explained a little more about her stance Monday night on the “Zone Coverage” radio show on WBLF.
“I thought it was important that in this moment,” she said, “in this very important moment, that we pause so that we can insure that we got it right, so that not only would we be able to celebrate Joe Paterno’s legacy and the young men that won those games, and that those were back and those were recognized, but we also could do it in a way that the rest of the world could understand that it wasn’t just about the wins.”
Barbour later added the athletic department and university would “take time” and “be deliberate” about finding the proper way in the future to honor Paterno.
Meanwhile, Gadowsky had been invited on TSN Toronto 1050 radio in Canada on Monday morning, and he thought he would be discussing the success of his program (11-7-3, 5-2-1 for first place in the Big Ten), but instead was grilled for nearly 12 minutes — with some rather uncomfortable moments during the segment — about the decision.
“That was a very naïve situation that I walked into,” Gadowsky said Tuesday. “I think I was very naïve as to what I assumed what going to be a hockey talk.”
Gadowsky and the team are hoping they can finally put the situation to rest, and focus on this weekend’s games against the Wildcats. And while the last few days have been difficult, it has not all been negative.
“There’s a lot of caring people, I’ll tell you that,” Gadowsky said. “They’ve been extremely nice to me and extremely supportive of myself and the hockey program.”
Goodwin picks up second star
Earlier Tuesday, Goodwin was selected as the second star in the Big Ten’s weekly three stars honoring the players of the week. Goodwin had two goals and two assists in a win and tie against the Spartans. He has goals in four straight games, even as he is overshadowed by his two linemates, Casey Bailey and Taylor Holstrom, who are among the nation’s leaders in scoring.
“It’s awesome for him,” Gadowsky said. “It’s really nice to see. He’s a huge part of that line.”