By Pat White GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
After an exciting opening weekend to kick off their first season as a Division I program, the Penn State men's hockey team looks to continue their winning ways against Buffalo State and Rochester Institute of Technology in New York this weekend. The Nittany Lions lost a tough overtime game at home, and followed it up with a thrilling overtime win in their series against American International.
Head coach, Guy Gadowsky, said that getting the first win was a big step in building the foundation for Penn State hockey. He wants his team to continue to build off of that energy for the upcoming weekend. He thought his team played well in Friday's loss, but winning the game on Saturday was very satisfying.
"It was jubilation Saturday," Gadowsky said. "Nobody really knew how long it would take us to get a win. It was great for us to get that win Saturday night, and the way we got it, in overtime on a tremendous goal. It was a lot of fun."
When asked if the win from last weekend had worn off, Gadowsky was all smiles.
"Not yet," he said. "It was such a great weekend. I had optimistic feelings about how the student body and alumni were going to take to us. What we saw this weekend was fantastic. It's a big reason why I'm here, why our staff came here, why our recruits came here and to see it was so much fun. To get a huge win... It was awesome."
Gadowsky hinted that there would be some changes in the lines for this weekend's games. Although he doesn't have his lines labeled, Gadowsky said that he is keeping the big forward line of Max Gardiner, Jonathan Milley, and Casey Bailey intact because he sees chemistry beginning to develop.
"We aren't going to label any lines right now," he said. "Two of the lines that you'll see play Friday night you haven't seen."
Gadowsky said another forward line that will continue to play together this weekend is Curtis Loik, Kenny Brooks, and David Glen. Glen scored two goals last Saturday, including the game-winning goal in overtime. All three forwards play a tough, hard-nosed brand of hockey, which is why they have been successful so far, according to Brooks
"All three of us are hardworking forwards and we do the little things out there," Brooks said. "That's why we've been getting things done. I like playing with both of them because they work in the corners."
A new tradition Gadowsky has brought to the team is giving out of a construction helmet to the player that works the hardest out on the ice.
"The significance in the hard hat is what's going on across the street," Gadowsky said. "They're building the foundation (of the building) for us so that we can have success in the future. It mirrors what we're doing as a team. We're building a foundation so that we can have success in the future, and future years in the Big Ten."
Brooks was the first recipient of the hard-hat for the way he back-checked and played solid, two-way hockey last Saturday. Brooks will now pass it on to the player he thinks deserves the helmet after the next game. He said it was a great feeling being recognized for his work on the ice.
"It was special to get the first one," Brooks said. "There were multiple players who could have gotten it, but it's an honor to get it."
Gardiner said that the helmet was a surprise for all the players, but it is a ritual that he has seen before. He said, "it's not about who scores the goal or makes the big play at the end of the game, but who does the little things."
The Nittany Lions have a tall task in front of them with RIT, who defeated the previously third ranked Michigan Wolverines last week in Ann Arbour. Gadowsky said it will be a challenge for his young team.
"RIT has a great program," Gadowsky said. "They have a really great student body as well and a great atmosphere in their rink. The game itself is going to be very tough. It's going to be a great measuring stick for us. I think it will be a great atmosphere and we'll learn a lot about being on the road."
Penn State will play RIT at Blue Cross Arena, a 13,000 seat facility that is home to the American Hockey League's Rochester Americans. Gadowsky said that despite having a young team, he is especially excited for the upperclassmen playing in the game.
"Some of the most bright-eyed and bushy-tailed guys are our upperclassmen who came to Penn State to play club hockey and now find themselves playing in front of 13,000 people against RIT," he said. "So you talk about the young guys and the young energy, I think a lot of the upperclassmen are holding that role as well."
Big arenas and hostile crowds are new to most of the young team. One of the players who has played in big arenas is Max Gardiner, who played at Wisconsin and North Dakota while playing for Minnesota his freshman year.
"It's an experience [they] are going to remember for the rest of [their lives]," Gardiner said. "Those are the fun games to play in. [They're] like every other game but you get really pumped and it makes it even more fun."
Despite the excitement about playing in front of 13,000 fans, the team knows that have to take care of business against Division III opponent, Buffalo State first. Brooks said that the team can't get too excited about playing RIT on Saturday.
"Any game is going to be a big game at this point," Brooks said. "I don't think anyone in our locker room is looking past that at all."
Gardiner said that although it felt great to get the first win at Penn State, the team has to carry that momentum to this weekend and start a winning streak.
"It was pretty awesome to get that first one, but we expect many more to come," Gardiner said. "We're just trying to build off it every week we're trying to get better and build a foundation. We're going to build off Saturday night's win, and go on."
Penn State will play Buffalo State Friday at 7 p.m. The Nittany Lions will then travel to Rochester to take on RIT on Saturday at 7:35 p.m. in Rochester.