UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The journey for the Penn State NCAA Division I hockey team took one step closer to opening night with the unveiling of the team's new jerseys at the Penn State All-Sports Museum on Sept 11.
Sophomore forward Tommy Olczyk and sophomore transfer forward Max Gardiner were on hand for the unveiling of the jerseys, and both are very excited to get the season underway.
"It's pretty surreal that this is all coming together," said Olczyk. "The jerseys are just the beginning of it. We've done some team bonding and we couldn't have asked for a better freshman class. Our freshman class is really skilled and can skate. All the returning players are great as well."
Max Gardiner is no stranger to Division I hockey. Gardiner transferred from the University of Minnesota before taking a year off to play for Dubuque in the United States Hockey League. He brings some experience and is excited to join the up-and-coming program.
"It's going to be pretty awesome to be the first Division I team here at Penn State," Gardiner said. "It's an honor. We're really excited to get going here with all the other players on the team."
Olczyk said that the hard-working identity of the team would not change from last year, especially on the backcheck. Both are things are heavily stressed by head coach Guy Gadowsky.
"Coach Gadowsky is always harping on us to work hard," Olzcyk said. "We're going to be the hardest working team in the NCAA, and that is going to come with practice and with good practice habits.
"Backchecking will be our strength. Backchecking leads to turnovers and chances offensively."
Coach Gadowsky brought in recruits that cater to the way he envisions the team playing on the ice. He encourages speed and creativity but also wants his players to be the hardest working team on the ice. The team got bigger up front, as well as on defense adding four players 6-foot or taller.
Max Gardiner is 6-foot-3 and provides a big frame to go along with a tremendous skill set as a playmaker. Casey Bailey is also 6-foot-3 inches and possesses a powerful shot to go with his physical mentality. Jonathan Milley is 6-foot-4 and brings a physical presence the corps of forwards, and Mark Yanis brings his 6-foot-3 frame to the Nittany Lions' blue line.
"We want to emphasize speed and creativity," Gadowsky said. "I think you are going to see on the back end, we wanted to get a little harder to play against. That's where a Mark Yanis comes into play. He really has a presence. He is someone that we identified as someone who will give our back end a bite and make us a little tougher to play against."
Despite adding size and grit to the roster, Gadowsky said that the identity of the team does not change.
"We should be a very hard team to play against especially in the gritty areas and that's where the size comes in," he said. "It doesn't change how we play, but maybe enhances it."
Aside from the new additions to the team, Gadowsky stressed the importance of the returning players from last year's club team, especially next year when the Nittany Lions join the Big Ten Conference.
"The guys coming back are huge," Gadowsky said. "We are going to be in the Big Ten in a year. I think we had a lot of time to develop the foundation and we started that last year."
Gadowsky has already circled a few games on the calendar that he thinks will be good tests for the first year program.
"Wisconsin and Michigan State, even though we are playing them next year," he said. "It's hard to not have that pop out at you. We really look forward to that. Union also is a program that went to the Frozen Four last year. I have great respect for [Union's] coaching staff and how their team plays so that's going to be a tremendously hard test for us."
The Nittany Lions open their season on Oct.12 at home against American International.