By Pat White, GoPSUsports.com Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Greenberg Ice Pavilion was rocking to the sound of "Zombie Nation" and "We Are Penn State" chants on Friday night for the first official Division I men's ice hockey practice.
The festivities kicked off at 11 p.m. with on-ice games and player
interactions. Fans tested their accuracy shooting pucks at wooden targets,
while the players assisted the games for the Penn State faithful.
Head coach, Guy Gadowsky, and the Nittany Lions took the ice at midnight to give fans a taste of what the team has in store for the season. The team was introduced, and saluted the crowd for coming to the first practice.
Gadowsky wore a microphone and answered fan questions throughout the practice. He said that the biggest advantage the team has transitioning to the Big Ten is having Penn State fans there to support the team.
"What a great atmosphere," Gadowsky said. "We didn't know what to expect. To have this many students come out and support us, and be a part of this, it's just wonderful. It looked like the guys were having a great time out there too. That's a big part of why we came to Penn State; to have the best student body supporting us."
Gadowsky said that it was a lighthearted practice to get the team acquainted with the fans and build excitement for the season.
"The goal was just to get on the ice," Gadowsky said. "It's wonderful to be out here and to see this many fans, and the goal was to get the first one under our belt."
Freshman defenseman, Joe Lordo (St. Louis, Mo.) said that the fans played a major part in how the practice flowed and is excited to get the season underway.
"It was great having the fans out there," Lordo said. "I never had a practice with this many people out here. I love seeing the fan support."
Senior defenseman, Rich O'Brien (Furlong, Pa.) said the team had a good first practice, and it was a great way to kick off the first season of Division I hockey.
"I thought we had a pretty good tempo," O'Brien said. "When we were waiting in the tunnel it felt like we were coming out for our first game. Having the fans out here beforehand playing games, and wearing t-shirts was pretty amazing."
The hour-long practice featured drills that showed the fans a sense of the offensive skill that the team possesses. They practiced odd-man rushes, four-on-four drills, a brief scrimmage, and a breakaway competition. The players appeared to have a lot of fun practicing for the first time as a team.
Sophomore forward, Max Gardiner (Deephaven, Minn.) put on a show during the breakaway drill, scoring a few dazzling goals.
"I just had it tonight with a few lucky moves, I guess," Gardiner said with a laugh. "PJ (Musico) usually has my number, so it was good to get him back."
Gardiner is entering his first season at Penn State, and said that the fan support made the practice even more special.
"It seems like people around here are pretty excited to get started here with D1 hockey," he said. "It's exciting to see the support out here."
Following practice, fans had the opportunity to skate with the players on the ice and get to know the team better. They were even treated to a free concert as a few players sang "Call Me Maybe" over the loud speakers.
Gadowsky and the players said that it was a fun experience, but now it is time to get down to business in preparation for their first game.
"We have to get to work now," Gadowsky said. "This was fun, but we're playing Division I teams now. Pretty much everyone is a rookie. It's a huge challenge and we have a lot of work to do. But if tonight's any indication, it's going to be a lot of fun."
Lordo said that the practice was fun, but that he is ready to get the season kicked off and to start competing.
"The team is clicking pretty fast out there," he said. "I think it's going to be a good year. I just want to get into a game setting, and maybe run over somebody."
The Nittany Lions play their first game at the Greenberg Ice Pavilion on Friday at 7:30 p.m. against American International.