Not that they were complaining, but the success the Penn State men’s hockey team experienced last season came at a bit of a cost.
Head coach Guy Gadowsky and his staff had a long-term plan in building the Nittany Lions from the ground up for the young Division I program.
But in just their third season, they posted their first winning record, were knocking off ranked teams and at one point sat atop the Big Ten standings.
With a new season about to start — the puck drops on the opener at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Harborcenter in Buffalo to face Canisius — Penn State is returning to work on the program’s foundation and core values.
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“It’s one of the areas that we felt we had to get back to,” Gadowsky said. “We really focused on the foundation for the first couple of years. And then last year we sort of had our expectations go towards results a little bit, and admittedly we took a step back in at least one aspect of our foundation, and we’re sort of getting back to it.”
The team got away a little from the identity Gadowsky wanted for the program, the grittiness and toughness that has been expected from the very first Division I game and will be for years to come. Not that those traits were necessarily lacking, but just a little diminished.
“This year we’re making a conscious decision to probably even focus more on our foundation than we did last year,” the coach said.
“You want to build on every year,” senior captain David Glen said. “A lot of the things we’ve tried to do over the last couple years is set the foundation, and build from there. I think we can continue to do that and success will come from that.”
The rededication to those values coincides with some rather large turnover on the roster.
The team has eight freshmen — almost one-third of the roster — and that makes it a natural chance to indoctrinate the newcomers and refresh the memories of the veterans. It started with the captain’s practices in late summer and continued through when official practices began a week ago.
“What you’re hearing from Coach Gadowsky is what the captains are telling us,” freshman defenseman Vince Pedrie said. “You can learn a little bit from everything.”
Gadowsky said the topics covered in practice are addressed a little more deliberately these days, reinforced over and over and solidified by the upperclassmen. That, too, is a departure from last season when there were just three freshmen.
Pedrie and fellow freshman Kevin Kerr figure to play key roles on the blue line. Both showed flashes of their talent in the team’s exhibition game against Windsor last Sunday.
Pedrie picked up a pair of assists, which falls into Gadowsky’s hopes of having the defensemen more involved in the offense.
“A couple of the tweaks we made to our systems I thought the guys did very well at,” Gadowsky said. “We have some other aspects to our game that we haven’t even touched yet that I know need some work.”
Four more freshmen also started at forward with Alec Marsh, Andrew Sturtz, Chase Berger and Matt Mendelson. A couple were by necessity and figure to see more time early this season as senior Eric Scheid and junior Zach Saar recover from injuries sustained in the preseason.
Those freshmen will be blended in with the other experienced members of the team. David Goodwin leads the way as the Big Ten’s top returning scorer, with 15 goals and 19 assists a year ago.
The other two freshmen are defenseman Derian Hamilton and goalie Chris Funkey.
Funkey doesn’t figure to see much playing time unless it’s necessary. Ahead of him is tons of experience in senior Matthew Skoff and junior Eamon McAdam. Gadowsky has already tabbed McAdam as the starter for Saturday’s game against the Golden Griffins.
The next few weeks will see a lot of experimentation, a lot of trial and error to find a line or two that can duplicate the electricity generated by last year’s top trio of Goodwin, Casey Bailey and Taylor Holstrom.
It’s one of the many changes for a team that will look quite different this fall.
“Not one line is the same as it was last year,” Gadowsky said. “Not one (defensive) pairing was the same as it was last year. … There can be two guys playing extremely well, but when you put them together they don’t get results, or vice versa. Some guys you don’t think are actually at the top of their game right now, but put them together they’re actually awesome.”