Penn State Hockey

Hard work rewarded during Nittany Lion hockey team’s first season

It is something done more about symbolism than anything, a reward for hard work and not just for scoring a couple goals or making a bunch of saves.

This season Penn State ice hockey head coach Guy Gadowsky has decided to give his athletes a reward for doing the little things to get the team a win — a hard hat.

“The significance of the hard hat is what’s going on across the street,” Gadowsky said, referring to the construction of the Pegula Ice Arena across from the Bryce Jordan Center. “They’re building a foundation for us right now so that we can have success for the future of the building, and really it mirrors what we’re doing as a team. We’re building a foundation so we can have success for the future.”

The honor will be given after wins, with Kenny Brooks given the hat for the first time. The freshman winger assisted on one goal and made a number of grinding plays that led to another score and helped stop opportunities for American International last Saturday night in a 4-3 overtime win, which was the first in the Division I program’s young history.

“It’s pretty special to get the first one,” Brooks said. “It’s a good moment any time you do get it. ... It’s not always the guy who scores the most goals, but also there’s multiple players that could have had it that night.”

The hard hat, white with a blue stripe and a decal of the recipient’s number put on the front, will subsequently be awarded by the current hat holder to a new teammate. In other words, Brooks will choose the next winner.

“All of us take pride in that also — doing the little things, working hard,” Brooks said. “I feel like the whole team takes pride in that.”

Brooks is hoping to have to make a choice tonight, when the Nittany Lions are back on the ice to meet Buffalo State at 7 p.m.

This weekend

After an opening weekend of two overtime games — a loss at home and a win on neutral ice over AIC — this weekend’s contests provide two very different opponents.

The Bengals, tonight’s foes, are a Division III program that was 13-12-2 last season and playing their season opener tonight.

Gadowsky said putting Division III teams on the schedule — they also host Buffalo State next month and travel to Fredonia State, which plays in the same SUNYAC conference and is about 50 miles from Buffalo — was necessary for the fledgling program.

“(It’s a) necessity,” he said. “We really had no idea what we had. To be a first-year program with one recruiting class, we had no idea where we’ll stand. It was a little bit of a necessity of knowing where we are and getting a little bit of competition to help us grow as well as the difficulty of scheduling teams as an expansion team.”

Then, on Saturday night, the Nittany Lions will get their biggest test of the season thus far with a visit to Rochester Institute of Technology, which is ranked just outside the top 20 polls, has a strong tradition and just split a series at then-No. 3 Michigan last weekend. The game will be played in Blue Cross Arena, the home of the AHL’s Rochester Amerks. More than 10,000 fans are expected with the game announced on Tuesday as a sellout.

The Lions will have to keep their emotions in check with that kind of atmosphere.

“We were real hyped our first couple games too, just to get started,” sophomore forward Max Gardiner said. “It’s a similar type deal, just a different environment. I’m sure we’ll have a little nerves to start the game, be really excited, but after a shift or two I think we’ll be pretty settled in.”

They also have to watch looking past tonight’s game in anticipation of Saturday.

“I guess you could look past it and say, ‘Hey, we have a huge game Saturday night,’” Brooks said. “But any game at this point is going to be a game for us. I don’t think anyone in our locker room is going to be looking past that.”

What’s on your mind?

The energy for Gadowsky, the pure joy of having the season underway and the start of the new program, is quite apparent every time he talks. Even after losing the season opener last Friday you could not have guessed there was any disappointment by looking at him or listening to him.

“I haven’t dreamt about hockey for a long time and I’m dreaming about hockey,” he admitted Thursday. “It just gets you going in the morning. You run to the office, you can’t wait to see the guys at practice, you can’t wait to see how we play. It’s so exciting right now.”

Shake it up

Gadowsky said he was really happy with last weekend’s third line — Brooks, Curtis Loik and David Glen, who scored two goals — as well as the work of the first line of Gardiner, Casey Bailey and Jon Milley. But since everything is so new and so many mysteries remain, he plans to continue to experiment with lineups and said the other two lines will be altered tonight.

Also, he started freshman Matthew Skoff in goal last Friday and sophomore P.J. Musico on Saturday, and the platooning likely will continue.

“It’s different every year,” Gadowsky said. “If we have two guys going strong then we’re going to keep it that way. If one emerges as a clear leader, the clear No. 1, then we’ll go with that as well.”