By Pat White GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.--The Nittany Lions (10-13-0) have had a successful season so far in their first season as a Division I hockey program. The quick transition from a club team to a formidable NCAA team is due in large part to head coach Guy Gadowsky.
Gadowsky has a history of turning programs into winners. Just like Penn State hockey, the road to success was a long one for Gadowsky.
After being cut from the Canadian National Team, Gadowsky was ready to give up hockey to pursue a career in another field such as law, accounting or insurance sales. None of those jobs quite fit the bill.
"When it came down to the decision and what to do, I just knew I had to be with hockey," Gadowsky said. "I couldn't be without it. I would die without hockey."
Gadowsky traded his briefcase for a clipboard and began the process of searching for a coaching position. He followed a blueprint to work his way up the ranks to a coaching position. After attending coaching clinics, getting certified in First Aid, being a skating instructor and coaching at lower levels, Gadowsky finally got his shot.
He served as an assistant coach under Roy Sommer, current coach of the Worcester Sharks and the longest tenured coach in the AHL, and his first head coaching job was with the Fresno Falcons of the West Coast Hockey League (WCHL).
After his three year stint in the WCHL, Gadowsky's opportunity at collegiate level. He took over at Alaska-Fairbanks, a struggling program that Gadowsky took out of the cellar in the Central Collegiate Hockey League. It was only first, but not the last time Gadowsky would revive a program.
He had five successful years at Alaska-Fairbanks, which led his back to the contiguous United State at Princeton. Once again, Gadowsky was given the task of taking a last-place team and making them a contender.
"When Princeton was looking [for a new head coach] they were the last ranked team in the nation," Gadowsky said. "They saw what happened at Alaska and thought maybe we could do the same thing [there]. In three years we ended up winning the ECAC and the Ivy League for the first time."
Gadowsky enjoyed his run at Princeton, and had the opportunity to coach current NHL players Darroll Powe (New York Rangers) and Kevin Westgarth (Carolina Hurricanes). It was the quality of people and student-athletes at Princeton that made the job so enticing for Gadowsky.
The same formula now stands true at Penn State. In the wide scope, Gadowsky was drawn to Happy Valley by the opportunity to play in the Big Ten and Pegula Ice Arena, the future home of Penn State hockey. Those components only scratched the surface of Gadowsky's desire to coach at Penn State.
"The biggest thing is how much passion the student body and alumni have for Penn State," Gadowsky said. "I've seen it from afar and I really value that. There's no better [support] than Penn State."
The academic integrity and values of Penn State sold Gadowsky that this was the job for him. His enthusiasm to not only making his players better hockey players, but well-rounded people is second to none.
"I believe so strongly in college athletics," Gadowsky said. "It gives you great lessons for life. Whether you play professionally in that sport, or go on to become a contributor in the community. I just believe collegiate athletics are the greatest training ground for that...I take it very seriously to be a positive influence to everyone that comes through this program."
Sophomore captain Tommy Olczyk (Long Grove, Ill.) has played for Gadowsky for two years now and has learned lessons both on and off the ice from the hockey lifer.
"It's about being a good person," Olczyk said of Gadowsky's mentality. "You have to act with class all the time...He loves academics and good grades, especially at a great university like this. It's not all about being a good hockey player but being a good person."
Throughout the years of coaching, Gadowsky has met many influential people who have made him a better coach. He credits the aforementioned Sommer, as well as former Ottawa Senators and minor league head coach Dave Allison, who coached Gadowsky while with the Prince Edward Island Senators and Richmond Renegades.
Last summer, Gadowsky met with longtime NHL coaching greats Mike Keenan and Ken Hitchcock. The three discussed coaching philosophies and how to develop a team identity.
Gadowsky's ties with Hitchcock go back to his days at Princeton when he approached the then Philadelphia Flyers head coach during the 2004-05 NHL lockout in need of a goaltending coach. Instead of a goalie coach, Hitchcock volunteered to help with the team.
"I thought he'd come for a week and skate around," Gadowsky said. "He stayed for the entire season...If I had a question on something he'd say 'ok I'll come in the office early' and he'd come in four hours before practice and I'd ask him every little question. It was the best experience I could have asked for as a young coach.
"It was an amazing experience, not only system wise, but how to manage a team. I think he deserves a lot of credit for what happened at Princeton."
Gadowsky's passion for college hockey stems back to his time spent at the University of Alberta with his father. He remembers playing racquetball and working out with his dad, and wants the same opportunity for his children.
Hockey was in Gadowsky's blood growing up in a hockey mecca like Edmonton, Alberta. He played street and pond hockey and grew up watching the Edmonton Oilers during their dynasty days in the 1970's. Like most kids from Edmonton, Gadowsky idolized NHL legend Wayne Gretzky, but also had another favorite player; Philadelphia Flyers' great, Bobby Clarke.
"[Hitchcock] invited me to take part in Flyers training camp and I had a chance to meet Bobby Clarke," Gadowsky said. "When he walked in the room I felt like a kid again. I had met players from Wayne Gretzky on down, but when I met Bobby Clarke, I couldn't talk. It was really weird."
Gadowsky and the Nittany Lions will host the only other independent team in Division I hockey this weekend, the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers (3-17-1), in what captain Tommy Olczyk has unofficially deemed the "Independent League Mega-Bowl."