It was quite apparent by the middle of last season, reinforced by the final games and made even more clear through the summer.
The Penn State men’s ice hockey team has a No. 1 goalie — Matthew Skoff.
Coach Guy Gadowsky announced at Tuesday’s preseason media day that the junior from McKees Rocks had earned that status for the team’s season opener Oct. 10 against Connecticut at Pegula Ice Arena.
What happens after that is still up in the air, but unlike last season when there was open competition all the way to the first game, Skoff had the resume to back up the appointment.
“He has absolutely earned the right to start,” Gadowsky said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to stay that way. He has to perform this year, but going into the season he absolutely is our guy.”
Skoff was the only goalie to win a game last season, when the Nittany Lions closed their second season of Division I play with an 8-26-2 record. Skoff was 8-13-2, with a 2.95 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage – with both of those numbers also leading the team. He also was in goal when the team beat Michigan in double overtime in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.
Even with past success — he also had the best numbers during the 2012-13 campaign — he’s not taking anything for granted.
“I prepare the same way every season,” Skoff said. “No matter what anyone has to say or what coach has predicted. I just treat every game, every practice, like it’s an important one.”
Skoff spent most of the summer in State College, like many of his teammates, although he did take a few days to go to the West Coast at the San Jose Sharks’ camp.
Even with his excellent numbers, he still is looking to improve.
“Any time I’m in the net I want to give my team the best chance to win,” Skoff said. “… My role is, I’m an upperclassman now, I lead by example. That’s in practice and in games.”
Early in the summer, Patrick Koudys was named team captain, assuming the role held by Tommy Olczyk for the previous two seasons.
Gadowsky said it was by a unanimous vote of the team, and with agreement from the coaching staff.
“He’s earned the respect of the team,” Gadowsky said. “He really was a unanimous selection.”
The senior defenseman and engineering major played in every game last season, netting two goals and six assists, but he was the team’s top blue-liner. His 79 blocked shots were by far best on the Lions.
“It’s a huge honor,” Koudys said of receiving the “C” on his sweater. “We’ve got a lot of great leaders on the team.”
Nate Jensen and David Glen return as the team’s assistant captains.
Gadowsky said Olczyk will still have a prominent role with the team, and that he was the right person for the job during the program’s Division I infancy.
“I think it really does set a great precedent that, ‘Hey, you really don’t have to have that letter,’” Gadowsky said. “We want to have 27 great leaders.”
Saar out a while
Gadowsky ticked off a few injuries as the team prepares for the first official practice Saturday, although only one player for now appears to be out long term.
He said sophomore forward Zach Saar had hip surgery late in the summer and is expected to be out until at least “after Christmas.”
Also, goalie Eamon McAdam and forwards Dylan Richard and Kenny Brooks had surgery as well. Richard had work on his shoulder, Brooks on his wrist and McAdam’s was not disclosed. Gadowsky said all three are ready for the season.
Penn State has three freshmen on the roster, with defenseman Erik Autio the first native European to join the Nittany Lions. He already has plenty of international experience under his belt with Finland’s uner-18 national team at a number of events.
Gadowski said an old contact from his days as the head coach at Princeton told him about Autio, and the Penn State coaches never saw Autio play in person, only on video.
Learn to curl
A free Learn to Curl event will be held at Pegula Ice Arena from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday. The event will be hosted by the Centre County Curling Club and USA Curling.
The day will include an overview of the sport as well as on-ice learning stations.
Those interested in attending should enter the building through Gate C — the main gate for the community rink across from Holuba Hall.
The next level
Penn State saw a number of players spend time with NHL teams this summer.
In addition to Skoff, Koudys was with the Washington Capitals, McAdam was with the New York Islanders, Casey Bailey was with the Calgary Flames and Eric Scheid was with the Minnesota Wild.
“He learned how he would have to play consistently to be able to play at that level,” Gadowsky said of Scheid. “For the limited amount of time we’ve been able to be on the ice with the team so far, he definitely looks like he’s added a bit of a step. Sometimes that’s what an NHL camp can do — it can give you a lot of confidence.”
In addition to a variety of technical things they may learn, Gadowsky said one of the major benefits of going to the camps is that they see how professional teams train, and it reinforces what he and his coaches are teaching them.
“It just sets a belief that someday you can be there,” Skoff said. “Just learning all the little things, like habits.”