Making its first trip to the NCAA tournament since the program’s founding, Penn State hockey wasted no time proving its mettle.
The Nittany Lions made a statement with a 10-3 first round victory over Union before being ousted from the tournament by a juggernaut Denver team 6-3 in the quarterfinals.
Head coach Guy Gadowsky met with reporters for the final time this season on Tuesday to discuss his takeaways from the 2016-17 campaign, as well as how he plans to transition the program into the offseason.
1.) Penn State’s fifth season of division one college hockey had no shortage of peaks and valleys.
A stellar start to the year saw the Nittany Lions climb to the top of the USCHO poll, but they went winless in their next five contests and had difficulty sustaining success until the postseason, when the Lions won three straight games to claim the Big Ten championship.
Gadowsky said that, aside from a season spent with legendary coach Ken Hitchcock, he learned more about coaching this season than any other, and a portion of that knowledge was imparted to him by football coach James Franklin.
The two met in January after the Nittany Lions stumbled handling the pressure of the No. 1 ranking.
“It was great,” Gadowsky said. “It was really valuable for me. He was busy and I asked for ten minutes, and it turned into like an hour. I told him I needed help, so he agreed to do it, and once he found out the subject and the importance of it, he was very forthcoming and it was very cool.”
Thanks in large part to Franklin's advice, the Nittany Lions recovered, and went on to have a successful postseason, and Gadowsky thinks his team was able to prove itself on the national stage.
“Obviously, we were wearing dark so we were on the lower half of the draw, and I think on paper we were supposed to lose, and I think that’s probably what a lot of people thought,” Gadowsky said. “I’m sure there are some that thought we had a chance to win, but not like we did. I don’t think anybody would have picked us to win the way we did, and I loved it. I thought it was a little bit validating.”
2.) That postseason run came to an end when the Lions were overmatched by an incredibly talented Denver squad.
Despite having accomplished more than many would have expected so soon, Gadowsky said he isn’t wavering from the mindset he had coming into the job.
“We didn’t have a goal plan, we had a checklist of things that we wanted to accomplish, and that doesn’t change,” Gadowsky said. “There’s not very many [checks left] anymore, which is nice to see, but this experience has really made us hungry to want to learn more and get better."
After coming so close to a Frozen Four appearance, the Lions are eager to set about making the necessary improvements to ensure that they get this opportunity again.
“One of the things, getting to the tournament, and getting a taste of a chance to go to the Frozen Four is really motivating,” Gadowsky said. “To be honest, I think that’s something that everybody in this program really wants know, and it’s something we’re going to work towards. So this year was a great year. In fact, it was a tremendous learning experience for the coaching staff, and I’m sure the players, and ultimately the entire program.”
Gadowsky said he’ll begin his offseason work by having an individual sit-down with each of his players, as well as analyzing his system with the rest of the coaching staff.
3.) Penn State will have to gear up for next season without one of its most important contributors from this one.
Defenseman Vince Pedrie, an all-Big Ten selection, elected to forego his final two years of eligibility to sign with the New York Rangers.
Pedrie was tied for 12th among NCAA defensemen with 30 points on the year, playing alongside Erik Autio on Penn State’s top D-pairing.
“It’s something that you expect is going to happen more and more,” Gadowsky said of Pedrie’s departure. “Vince has been a great player for us, and a great person, a great representative of our program and university. He’s a really good guy. I’ve really enjoyed having him, and really, I wish the very best for him.”