By Pat White, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.--Now that the first official practice and media day are in the rear-view mirror, the focus turns toward the first Division I matchup for the Penn State men's hockey team.
The Nittany Lions are set to open their season at the Greenberg Ice
Pavilion Friday night at 7:30 p.m. against the American International Yellow
Jackets. The teams will then travel to Wilkes-Barre on Saturday to play a 7:00
p.m. game at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Head coach, Guy Gadowsky, spoke at media day, and said that everyone surrounding the team is excited to finally start the chapter of Division I hockey at Penn State.
"I know the student-athletes are pumped," Gadowsky said. "We're pumped. All the people that have put so much time and effort into organizing everything to move forward to the transition to D-I, they're all pumped. So it's just an exciting time."
The tempo and skill level from the club level to D-I is going to be an adjustment for the Nittany Lions. Gadowsky said that it is going to take some time and hard work at practice to adjust to the speed of the game.
"We know it will be a huge step up," he said. "We understand that in terms of the speed and strength of the athletes and even more the speed of the game... it is something we will have to work on every day at practice. It will be a huge challenge for us the entire year."
Gadowsky knows that there are more challenges facing the team in its' inaugural season at the Division I level. The team has been having "captain's practices" to work on conditioning in preparation for the season, but they only have a week of practices with the coaching staff before playing their first game.
"It's a huge challenge with so many new players to address systems and objectives with only one week to go," said Gadowsky. "Fortunately, we're all sort of in the same boat. Obviously the teams that have an established system are at an advantage over us right now. We're just going to do the best we can and improve every day."
Sophomore captain, Tommy Olczyk (Long Grove, Ill.), said that he is excited to finally play some Division I hockey.
"I think what I'm looking forward to the most is Friday," Olczyk said. "It is my first NCAA game. I've waited a long time to play hockey."
Olczyk said the team knows they have an uphill climb to transition from the club level. He said the most important thing is to work hard at practice and continue to build as a team.
"It's just a matter of getting in there, getting reps, making the most out of every shift, working hard and then getting into a rhythm and realizing that it is a lot different than past here," he said. "The hockey is going to be more physical. It's going to be faster so it's just a matter of getting better every week in practice and obviously getting better in the games every week."
Junior forward, Bryce Johnson (Grimes, Iowa), said that he's excited to see how the team meshes and is excited about the new challenge.
"We're excited to get everyone together and get into the game situations and see some live action," Johnson said. "As the season progresses, we need to get our identity and what our roles are going to be. We want to show the NCAA what we have, and that we have a lot of fight in us.
Junior forward, Taylor Holstrom (Yorba Linda, Calif.), is one of a few players on the team who has NCAA experience. Holstrom played for Mercyhurst College his freshman year scoring nine goals and tallying 36 points. He said that he's excited to play at the D-I level again and to see the support of the Penn State fans.
"I'm looking forward to getting back to that level with such a high pace again," Holstrom said. "Whenever the fans get out here to support us, it's always a fun time."
Gadowsky brought in a lot of new faces to build the foundation of Penn State hockey. Despite not having a lot of NCAA experience, they each bring experience from playing at the junior hockey level in the United States and Canada. Freshman, Casey Bailey (Anchorage, Alaska), freshman, Jonathan Milley (Gatineau, Que.) and sophomore, Max Gardiner (Deephaven, Minn.), all bring size and skill to the forward position. Gadowsky thinks that the added presence up front will bring an exciting style of play to the team.
"We do have a vision in terms of creativity, and we want to play great hockey that the fans here are going to love to watch," Gadowsky said. "In that sense I'm very excited about it. We've got guys who you're really going to enjoy watching."
Junior defenseman, Nate Jensen (Shorewood, Minn.), said that the team can't wait to lace up the skates and play an actual game. He said that the team is little nervous, but that they will be ready to play come Friday.
"We've been practicing for a month so we're pretty excited to put the jersey on," Jensen said. "There's a little bit of nerves, but we're pretty excited to get out there and play a couple games, get a couple hits in and get the crowd involved. It's going to be a fun night for us. "
A Look at American International
American International finished 10th (8-26-3) in the Atlantic Hockey Conference (AHC) last season. Returning is senior forward, and leading goal scorer, Adam Pleskach (Beausejour, Man.), who posted 16 goals and 30 points last season for the Yellow Jackets.
American International scored most of its' goals on the power play, scoring 23 goals. If Penn State is to control the tempo and the scoreboard, they will have to stay out of the penalty box.
One of the weaknesses of American International last season came on the penalty kill, working at 80 percent, good for tenth in the AHC. The Nittany Lions have to make the most of their power play opportunities if they want to get past the Yellow Jackets.