By Pat White GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions are off to a 4-2 start in their first season playing Division I hockey. The team is coming off of an upset win on the road two weeks ago against RIT and wins at Army and Sacred Heart last weekend, thanks in large part to goaltender PJ Musico.
Musico (Orange, Calif.) played for the Flin Flon Bombers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey (SJHL) before coming to Penn State last year. With the Bombers, Musico led the SJHL in minutes played, saves and shutouts.
Last season, Musico played for the Penn State club team in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA). He went 14-1-1 with a 1.49 goals against average, while posting a .930 save percentage and two shutouts. The Nittany Lions are looking to Musico to provide the same success this year at the NCAA level. Despite the 4-0 start, Musico said he's had to make adjustments moving from club to Division I.
"The speed and the talent level is a step up from playing club," Musico said. "Luckily we have a lot of talented guys on the team this year. [The transition] definitely stepped up the pace at practice and it helps being here last year. Last season got me a little in touch with the university and what everything is about at Penn State."
Musico's first two starts were in front of large crowds, his first being an overtime win at Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. His second start was two weekends ago at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, NY. Musico said that playing in front of big crowds and loud atmospheres has been an incredible experience, especially against RIT.
"It was a really rewarding experience to play in front of all those fans," he said. "I couldn't be more grateful to play in that facility and represent Penn State."
Musico has faced 130 shots through four games and has only allowed eight goals. He said that facing that many shots gets him in the zone while on the ice.
"It definitely helps keep you warm" he said. "One of the nicer things about seeing a lot of shots is that it keeps you busy. You don't have time to think about anything and you can just do what you have to do out there."
Musico was recruited by head coach, Guy Gadowsky before his freshman season to play Division I, but Musico didn't always play hockey. As a kid, he said he played baseball and soccer like most kids growing up. It wasn't until he watched a game with his dad that he thought about playing hockey.
"[Soccer and baseball] weren't thrilling or fast enough for me," Musico said. "One night, there was a [Anaheim] Ducks game on TV and my dad was like 'Hey do you want to try hockey?' and sure enough I fell in love."
Musico began his hockey career playing forward and defense, but his dad thought that he blocked too many shots. That was how Musico started playing goalie.
"My dad didn't like that I was blocking shots and taking saves from the goalie," he said, "so he said if you're going to be doing that you might as well wear the proper equipment. So I became a goalie."
Growing up Musico looked up to former Anaheim Mighty Ducks goaltender, Guy Herbert. He said as he got older, Hall of Fame goaltender, Patrick Roy became a player he emulated.
Coach Gadowsky had high praises for his sophomore goaltender. He said that it shouldn't come as a surprise that Musico has seen success this season. He complimented Musico's ability to make big saves at crucial times in game, but is even more impressed by his work ethic.
"He's a gamer," Gadowsky said. "He's worked extremely hard all summer and since he's been here on conditioning, strength and as a goaltender, as well. The fact that he's such a great athlete and he is so committed is a big reason for his success so far."
Gadowsky said that Musico was a major factor in the win against RIT, especially when Penn State had to kill off a five minute major-penalty at the end of the game. The goaltender has to be the best penalty-killer on the team, and Gadowsky said he was a key part of preserving the 3-2 lead late in the game.
"He is an unbelievable athlete," Gadowsky said. "He did have to make a couple great saves late in the game. I thought he tracked the puck extremely well all game long. I think his biggest, most difficult saves were the ones he had to fight through a lot of traffic and he worked really hard to track the puck."