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Lions Eager to Roar

Amid all the controversy surrounding the football program, last fall brought something new to Penn State: Division I hockey competition. The 2012-13 hockey season was the Nittany Lions’ first as a part of NCAA Division I, and the new program fit in quite nicely.

“I was very excited for college hockey because being that you can have a Big Ten hockey conference,” said head coach Guy Gadowsky. “It’s just something that I think a lot of people were looking forward to, because with that comes the Big Ten Network.”

Derek Schooley, head coach for Robert Morris’ men’s ice hockey team, was immediately welcoming to the news that Penn State would be joining the Colonials with a D-1 hockey program.

“I believe having another team in the state will help keep college hockey on the minds of PA hockey players and supporters,” said Schooley.

The bar may have been set high for the Nittany Lions, but they did better than expected by posting impressive wins over Big Ten schools Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin, and ending their season at almost .500 with a record of 13-14. Not bad for an inaugural season.

“The wins and losses, we weren’t set out to evaluate our season based on wins and losses,” Gadowsky said. “To have 13 of those NCAA Division I wins was far beyond what we expected, and to have those against Vermont, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, those are something that we certainly [were looking forward to].”

Being in the spotlight of Division I also brought new competition when it came to the subject of recruiting players. The goal for Penn State, or any school starting out in Division I, is to be able to appeal to players and make them want to wear their sweater and skate for their club. The appeal to players coming out of the state of Pennsylvania is extremely important for Penn State, according to Gadowsky.

“[In Pennsylvania] we already have great players coming out of Pittsburgh, coming out of Philadelphia, and I think the Pegula Ice Arena is going to be a catalyst for more great players coming out of the center county,” Gadowsky said. “Once we are in Pegula Ice Arena and once the hockey world sees what a tremendous atmosphere it is, I think we will then start to compete for those recruits.”

Pegula Ice Arena, Penn State’s brand new hockey facility, is now being built across the street from the campus and is expected to open for next year’s hockey season. Terry Pegula, owner of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres and AHL’s Rochester Americans—and a Penn State Alumnus—generously donated $102 million to construct the 6,000-seat arena.

Gadowsky and his players are looking forward to skating in their new arena, knowing that the Penn State faithful with follow them there and provide an exciting atmosphere for the team.

“We’re going to have a great atmosphere,” Gadowsky said. “Penn State has the best student body in the world, and to play in front of them in Pegula Ice arena is going to be really motivating and I think that’s going to be a big factor.”

With the announcement of new captain Tommy Olczyk, son of hockey great Eddie Olczyk, and alternates Nate Jensen and David Glen, Penn State hockey is looking to the future and has high hopes for the 2013-14 season.

“Going into next season, in the Big Ten, you just want to improve every game as we did this year,” said forward Jonathan Milley. “This year we didn’t focus too much on the wins and losses, it was more progressing as a team. I think next year we need to up our skills and be one of the good teams in the Big Penn StateTen.”

Pennsylvania’s burgeoning hockey scene figures to contribute to that improvement. The Consol Energy Center hosting the NCAA Frozen Four last April, as well as January’s Three Rivers Hockey Classic, helped cement Pittsburgh as a hockey town.

“We’re going to get the best players, the best student athletes, that fit Penn State and we’re going to work extremely hard developing them to the best of our ability,” Gadowsky said. “It’s going to be great, exciting hockey and it’s going to compete with the best in the nation.”

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