It was both a surprise, and not a surprise, that Eamon McAdam decided to leave the Penn State men’s hockey program.
The junior goaltender last Wednesday opted to forgo his final year of eligibility and play professionally. He was a third-round draft pick of the New York Islanders, and signed with the team and joined its minor league AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, Conn.
As head coach Guy Gadowsky wrapped up the Nittany Lions’ season Monday afternoon at Pegula Ice Arena, he said he and the goalie talked through the season about the future and McAdam’s options. As soon as the season ended, with a 7-2 loss to Michigan in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, McAdam was in contact with the Islanders and the wheels were turning.
“I really respect his thought process,” Gadowsky said. “This wasn’t a whimsical decision at all. He was very meticulous and thought a lot of things through.”
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Gadowsky said the goalie still plans to finish earning his degree in earth and mineral sciences.
Gadowsky also praised McAdam for his progress through his three seasons on campus. With a ton of expectations as an NHL draft pick, he struggled as a freshman, failing to win in 10 starts with a 4.09 goals-against average and .882 save percentage. He was 5-4-1 as a sophomore while cutting down the goals against and raising the save percentage, and this season he was 8-5-3 with a 3.26 GAA and .902 save percentage. Until the final weeks of the season he was the conference’s top goalie.
“He’s a guy that improved every year, both in our coaches’ eyes but also statistically,” Gadowsky said. “And really elevated everything about his game.”
The expectation was to have McAdam back for another season, but the departure means there will only be two goalies on the roster in freshman Chris Funkey and recruit Peyton Jones. Funkey got into four games in relief, allowing just two goals, neither even strength, in 71 minutes of action.
Jones has been with the Lincoln Stars of the U.S. Hockey League the last two seasons. He is 18-9-3 this season with a 2.31 GAA and .922 save percentage with four games left in the regular season.
“We feel we have one of the best guys available coming in to Penn State in Peyton Jones,” Gadowsky said. “And Chris Funkey has proven himself, obviously it’s a small sample size.”
It leaves the team with a two raw goalies after carrying three on the roster the past four seasons. Gadowsky said he is not seeking a third goalie, but is keeping their options open.
“To find that out (how good they are) they have to have experience,” Gadowsky said. “We are not looking. We’re obviously going to make plans for a third if needed, for sure, but we’re not actively saying we’re going to pursue a goaltender.”
The Big Ten added Notre Dame as an associate member of the conference last week for hockey. The Fighting Irish, who lost in overtime to Michigan on Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament, gives the conference another historically strong and competitive program.
Gadowsky is hopeful it is not the last addition to the conference.
“I think in the future you’ll see more Big Ten teams,” Gadowsky said. “But I have no information on that, nor is that anything that I get to vote on. But I think Notre Dame is a great fit.”
Big holes to fill
Running down the season scoring list, it’s quite apparent there will be major changes in the Penn State lineup next fall. Six of the top 11 scorers are seniors.
But just as big of a loss will be the heart the departing players showed, believing in the program that was just starting out, and showing a toughness and perseverance to help elevate the program to where it stands as they leave.
But Gadowsky is putting a greater value on speed and knowledge than on toughness for the future.
“It’s going to be very hard to replace the competitive nature, the grittiness, the physical play that they have,” Gadowsky said, “and at the same time there are other aspects that we want to improve on. For instance we want to get faster, we want to get more cerebral, we want a higher hockey IQ. I think we’ve done that.”
A major reason for emphasizing the cerebral play is the number of penalties the team took this season. They took 174 calls for 395 minutes, with a far greater number in the second half of the season during conference play. It dropped the team to 34th in the nation in penalties, after ranking among the top five early in the season. It also dropped the team to 40th in penalty killing, and Gadowsky cited those numbers as the No. 1 offseason priority that needs to be fixing.
Still, that’s a good problem to be pondering. It’s a hockey problem, like losing good players to the pros, instead of wondering when they will start winning more often. A 20-win season and third-place Big Ten finish was a successful season.
“We certainly are further along than we anticipated or hoped,” Gadowsky said.
Changes for Badgers
Wisconsin decided to change coaches following an 8-19-8 season and a last-place finish in the Big Ten, firing Mike Eaves last week.
“He’s a great coach,” Gaowsky said. “He’s had a ton of success, and recently too.”
The school will reportedly hire former Badger and NHL star, and current Detroit Red Wings assistant coach, Tony Granato on Tuesday.