The Wisconsin Badgers, as voted upon by the B1G coaches, were chosen as the preseason favorite for the inaugural B1G hockey conference. Not much of surprise, since the Badgers return nine seniors and seven juniors after reaching the NCAA tournament last year. The Minnesota Gophers were voted to finish second, with Michigan slotted for third, Michigan State and Ohio State projected to tie for fourth and Penn State to finish last.
Penn State fans may object to where their team is ranked, but in all honesty, it’s where they should be right now. The key word is right now. Like it or not, Penn State is an unknown to many. This is the Nittany Lions first real season playing in an organized conference against teams that have been doing this for years. Last year as a Division I independent, Guy Gadowsky’s squad went 13-14 overall with wins against Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Not too shabby, given no one knew what to expect. With that being said, they did have some head scratching losses most notably to Division III Neumann University and ACHA powerhouse Arizona State.
Playing a brutal B1G conference schedule, coupled with a difficult home non-conference schedule against preseason No. 1 UMass-Lowell, No. 4 Boston College and No. 12 Union will be a tough task for Penn State this season. That being said, from getting to know Guy Gadowsky pretty well last season, he’s the perfect guy to lead this team. He’s as passionate and fiery about hockey as you can get. He demands the best out of his players and his players respond to him on the ice.
What I admire about Gadowsky is his willingness to experiment and a change philosophy if something doesn’t work out according to plan. As far as where he ranks among coaches in the conference, Gadowsky is not as accomplished as Don Lucia, Red Berenson or Mike Eaves, but I believe he’s more experienced as a head coach than Tom Anastos at Michigan State and Steve Rohlik at Ohio State.
Anastos took over for Rick Comley in March of 2011 and prior to that served as commissioner of the CCHA from 1998-2011. He was also head coach at University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1987-90 and served as an assistant to the legendary Ron Mason at MSU from 1990-92. I know he’s well respected in the world of hockey but his head coaching experience of a major Division 1 college hockey program is suspect to me.
Steve Rohlik enters his first season as head coach in Columbus. He spent the past three seasons serving as an assistant under Mark Osiecki at OSU and served on the coaching staff at Minnesota-Duluth and Nebraska-Omaha for a combined 13 years. Rohlik certainly has more experience than Anastos in my opinion, but being an assistant for all those years and now being the head boss will take some adjustment.
Gadowsky spent five seasons as head coach of Alaska from 1999-2004, where he took over a team that had not won more than 14 games in their previous five seasons. After two rebuilding seasons, he led Alaska to a 22-win campaign in 2001-02.
Before Gadowsky arrived on Princeton’s campus, the Tigers won a combined eight games in two seasons with one NCAA tournament appearance. In his 4th and 5th season behind the bench, Princeton won 21 and 22 games respectively going to NCAA’s in each season. They also won the ECAC tournament in 2008.
What he did at Princeton with the travel restrictions, scheduling, and Ivy League academics was tougher than what he currently has at Penn State I believe. Now he has a brand new arena as a recruitment tool, to go along with top of the line training facilities, a world-class university, and the allure of being part of something historic.
Not to mention the underdog factor.
Penn State went 2-1 versus Michigan State and Ohio State last season and 3-2 if you include Wisconsin. I’ve read articles where pundits and experts called it a fluke. Make no mistake it was no fluke.
The Lions currently don’t have any players who wow anybody but they do possess a bunch of players who work hard at both ends of the ice, are proven producers, and are leaders.
Their goaltending has potential to be great with New York Islanders draft pick (70th overall, ‘13) and Perkasie, PA native Eamon McAdam. The defense, which was decimated by injuries last season, and should be improved with a healthy Luke Juha and Mark Yanis who both have NHL potential. Mike Williamson (VAN, 175th overall, ’13) and RPI transfer Patrick Koudys (WSH, 147th overall, ’11) will be welcomed additions on the back end.
Up front, sophomore Casey Bailey is a pure goal scorer. Red shirt junior Taylor Holstrom is a player teams must keep their eye on at all times due to his shiftiness and speed. Sophomores David Glen and Kenny Brooks are both a coach’s dream to have. They can do it all on the ice. Junior Tommy Olczyk is the perfect captain for this team. He knows his role and executes it perfectly.
Max Gardiner (STL, 73rd overall, ’10) was somewhat of a disappointment last season after coming over from Minnesota. He showed flashes of brilliance last season but just never seemed comfortable. I wish he would play a more physical game, but he tends to shy away from the rough stuff. Nevertheless, I’m expecting a bounce back year from him.
Freshman Zach Saar comes in from Muskegon of the USHL. I’m really intrigued to see how Gadowsky will take advantage of his 6’4, 236 pound frame. The x-factor for this team though in my opinion is sophomore Jonathan Milley. Due to injury, he only played nine games last season and in those nine games he showed flashes of dominance. He’s a big guy at 6’4, 246 pounds. He has the size and speed to cause havoc on the ice. It’s imperative that he stays healthy this year.
Penn State is no where near Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin in terms of skilled players. That will take multiple recruitment classes and time. However, call me crazy, but I think Penn State should be in the same breath as Michigan State and Ohio State. They beat both squads last year with an inferior team to the one they’re going to ice this year. Looking at the Spartans and Buckeyes roster, no one player sticks out to me or scares me. Yes, I know they each had two players who were selected for the preseason players to watch list but does that really mean anything? The season is long and anything can happen. I mentioned it earlier but Gadowsky is much more experience behind the bench than either Anastos or Rohlik.
Penn State won’t shock the world and finish first or second in the conference. But they will upset one of those top three squads and they won’t finish last in the conference either.
Fans will get their first look at the 2013-14 men’s team at Pegula Ice Arena this Friday Oct.4 for a midnight practice. The Nittany Lions are scheduled open up the state-of-the-art Pegula Ice Arena on Friday Oct. 11 versus the Army Black Knights at 8 p.m on the Big Ten Network.