Philadelphia Homecoming Awaits Five Lions

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By Pat White GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

VIDEO: Philadelphia Homecoming Chatter with Morrone & O'Brien

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State will play in its fourth professional arena of the season on Saturday (Jan. 19) when they travel to Philadelphia to play Vermont in the Wells Fargo Center, home of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Philadelphia fans are known as being some of the most passionate and sports-crazed fans in the country. The NHL returns from the lockout on Saturday with the Flyers playing the Pittsburgh Penguins just five hours before Penn State takes the ice. The arena will be rocking for the Nittany Lions in one of the greatest hockey cities in the country.

Varley-Connor.jpegCoach Guy Gadowsky preached to his team all week that there was "no game in Philly" so the team could focus on playing Neumann on Tuesday night. That may have been easier said than done, especially for the five Philadelphia area natives on the team who are excited for the return home.

Seniors Brian Dolan (Havertown, Pa.), Dominic Morrone (Sewell, N.J.) and Rich O'Brien (Furlong, Pa.) and sophomore Peter Sweetland (Newtown, Pa.) return to Philadelphia for the second time after playing at Citizens Bank Park as part of the NHL's Winter Classic last January against Neumann. For freshman Connor Varley (Lansdale, Pa.) this will be his first game in the City of Brotherly Love.

Varley played at LaSalle and North Penn during his first two years of high school, respectively, two of the best prep programs in the Philadelphia area. He then left for two years to play junior hockey with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs of the BCHL and the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL. Varley is excited to return home and play in front of his friends and family.

"It'll definitely be cool," Varley said. "Being away the last two years, my family got out [to Des Moines] just a few times. To have the opportunity to play right at home is going to be really nice."

Sweetland played with the Syracuse Stars and the Green Mountain Glades of the EJHL before coming to
Penn State. He has heard from a lot of people attending the game and is excited to play in front of a big, raucous crowd.

"I have friends that go to school and can't see me play," Sweetland said, "they'll be home for break and they'll be able to see me play. My mom doesn't come out much so it's pretty exciting for her to see me play, too."

While the other four players live in and around the suburbs of Philadelphia, Dolan is just a short drive outside of the city. He played at local Monsignor Bonnor High School where he was first team All-Delco and served as team captain. The senior anticipates a good crowd and electric environment.

"I've been down there to watch Flyers games throughout my childhood," Dolan said. "To get a chance to play there is pretty cool. I have a lot of people from home coming down for the game. To play in that type of atmosphere with the team is going to be fun."

Playing in a big arena is not new for this team. Sweetland said he doesn't change any parts of his routine before the game. Dolan won't change the way he plays, but admits that nerves will be a little bit higher playing at home.

"It's going to be a big crowd," Dolan said. "You come into every game the same way. There may be more nerves on that big ice, but you don't change anything."

Varley has changed his game throughout the season and is playing some of his best hockey of the season. He wasn't happy with his play at the beginning of the season, but is now winning battles and playing with confidence. Varley is one of six Nittany Lions to play in all 20 games this season, and is fourth on the team in scoring with four goals and six assists. His confident play and improvement in doing the little things come at the right time as he returns home.

"Early in the season, I wasn't winning battles as much as I should have," Varley said. "That is one thing the coaches have really stressed to me. I think I've been doing a better job with that and things are going in the right direction. I want to continue to work on that and to chip in offensively."

Varley grew up a New York Rangers fan, but nonetheless is excited to play in front of a large crowd at a professional complex.

"It's obviously really cool to get a little taste of what it's like to play in a pro arena," Varley said. "We're expecting a big crowd there and to have them there to watch Penn State hockey is very exciting. I'm going to have a lot of friends and family there as well. We've had great alumni support everywhere we've went, so I expect to be awesome in Philly."

 

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