By Pat White goPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.-- Coach Guy Gadowsky and his coaching staff have set the foundation for men's hockey at Penn State with the excitement surrounding the new program, but the process took another step forward last week after the announcement of the 2013-14 recruiting class.
Gadowsky said that hockey recruiting is different from other sports because recruiting is a year-round process. Recruiting is especially important for a fledgling program like Penn State that needs the right pieces in place if they want to be competitive in the Big Ten next season.
"As we get further down the road, [we'll] find that [we're] missing pieces of a puzzle," Gadowsky said, "and then we'll go and get a certain type of player. We're still in the infancy stages of the program, so we just want to get the smartest hockey players we can who are the best students and best fit for Penn State University."
Gadowsky scouts potential recruits with assistant coaches Keith Fisher and Matt Lindsay. The primary leagues they scout are the Alberta Junior Hockey League, British Columbia Hockey League, Central Canada Hockey League, Eastern Junior Hockey League, North American Hockey League, Ontario Junior Hockey League and United States Hockey League, as well as New England prep schools.
"We have specific areas that we start to cover and then we have some crossover once the season gets going, as well," Fisher said. "You try to get four or five games a trip because it's a long trip and you want to maximize your opportunities to see kids while you're out there. You have to get a lot of work done in a short amount of time."
Fisher said that the USHL is the best junior league to scout because the players transfer well over to college hockey. In the future, however, the coaching staff aims to focus on recruiting closer to home. They want to a good job scouting the Pennsylvania area from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh.
"Hopefully in a decade, we're going to have more and more excellent hockey players from Pennsylvania and this region that we'll be able to choose from," Gadowsky said.
NCAA hockey programs are allotted only two scouts to go on recruiting trips at the same time. That seems like a low number, but it makes it easier for the coaches to evaluate players.
"For the amount of players you have to cover its difficult," said Fisher, "but the more people you have seeing players the more things can get mixed up a little bit. [Coach Lindsay and I] work very well together and we can get into friendly arguments about players. Sometimes the more people you get involved it kind of muddies the water."
Penn State hockey is on the upswing as a desirable destination to play college hockey. With the building of the Pegula Ice Arena, players will have an opportunity to play in one of the most state-of-the-art facilities in college hockey. The new arena is one of the many great selling points that the coaching staff presents to recruits.
"The selling points are the same things that attracted me to Penn State," Gadowsky said. "I loved the student body, the passion and the pride that the student body and the alumni have for this university. It is tremendous and important."
The opportunity for players to play in the Big Ten against some of the top programs in the country is another factor in the recruiting process.
"The Big Ten [forming a] hockey conference is a huge selling point," said Gadowsky. "They're going to be playing against some of the most successful hockey programs, traditionally, in college hockey. They all have great buildings...and the Big Ten Network is going to carry hockey games live across North America."
As a young program, there can never be an overabundance of leadership in the locker room. There are already many former junior hockey captains and alternate captains on the current roster and that trend will continue with the next class. All four position players recruited for next year are either captains or alternate captains for their respective team. Gadowsky said that captaincy isn't a mandatory attribute, but it furthers along the foundation process.
"Right now, we like the fact that we are getting guys who are captains from good programs and you will see that with some of the guys coming in next year," Gadowsky said. "We don't have guys who have been here for four years in our program with Division I experience and success. Everybody is sort of a freshman so we want to bring in as much leadership as we can."
The coaching staff is also looking for players with good character. In collegiate hockey, redshirting a player is not a common occurrence like it is in some other sports, so getting players to make an impact right away is crucial.
"We want guys that want to work hard on the ice as well as in the classroom," Fisher said. "We also look for hockey sense, skating ability and play makers on the ice. We're looking for guys that can step in and help us right away."
Gadowsky said that being a young program makes it hard for the staff to get selective about recruits. A few things on their holiday wish list included another goaltender, added size on defense, and bringing in players with high hockey IQ.
Fisher said that it is tough to predict if all of them will turn out to become great college hockey players until they arrive at Penn State, but, nonetheless, he thinks the coaching staff addressed all the areas they looked to improve.
"Eamon McAdam is the highest goaltending prospects in USA hockey, so he has great credentials coming in," Fisher said. "David Thompson is a great leader and a captain on the best team in the British Columbia Hockey League. Eric Scheid, David Goodwin and Zach Saar are all going to be able to come in and help us score some goals and play in all situations."
The upcoming freshmen are coming at a great time for Penn State hockey. Competition for playing spots is difficult amongst the top programs in the country, and at Penn State there are multiple opportunities for playing time.
"One thing about coming to Penn State is you have a very good opportunity as a freshmen to play Division I hockey," said Gadowsky. "There is going to be more and more competition as the program builds."