By Pat White GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - This coming series against ACHA opponent Oklahoma (21-11-0-2) will be the final homestand for the Nittany Lions (12-13) in Greenberg Ice Pavilion. For the underclassmen, it marks the transition to Pegula Ice Arena next season. As for the senior class, it closes the book on their Penn State hockey playing days, both club and varsity, and the start of the next chapter of their lives.
In the first part of a two part series you will get to know seniors Michael Longo (Allison Park, Pa.), George Saad (Wexford, Pa.) and Eric Steinour (Carlisle, Pa.).
Six seniors successfully went through a yearlong tryout to make the team last season while Penn State hockey was still at the club level. With the incoming freshmen class of 10 players and four transfer players, there were only a couple spots left. The senior class brought experienced leadership that the younger players needed.
"We knew we were getting a really great group of people in this senior class," head coach Guy Gadowsky said about the seniors. "I knew they'd do a great job of building a foundation."
Every team needs an energy guy among the bottom six forwards who will throw a big hit and be a pest for the other team. That was Longo this season. He always played with a snarl and never shied away from contact.
Longo said that he and the team are preparing for Oklahoma just as they would for any other opponent.
"[Oklahoma] is an ACHA team so we want to win all of our objectives and beat them every period," Longo said. "We also want to have fun now that we are coming down to the end of the season, especially for us seniors."
He said that it is bittersweet heading into the final homestand of his Penn State career, but knows the program will continue to move forward. He plans on coming back as an alumnus to see his teammates play in Pegula Ice Arena.
After three years at the club level, Longo was rewarded for all of his hard work with a chance to play on the varsity team. As a kid he wanted to play at the highest level of hockey he could and got that opportunity this year. Longo is excited to see how the program continues to develop as he moves on to life after hockey. Looking back on his experience, Longo recalled his favorite moment of his collegiate hockey career
"Despite being a Pittsburgh kid, playing in Philadelphia in front of the almost packed Wells Fargo Center was unbelievable," Longo said. "It was really cool to see all the fans come out and support us."
Longo was called into a leadership role this season with the 10 incoming freshmen. He and the other seniors led with a voice in the locker room, but also off the ice helping the newcomers adjust to the new environment.
There were adjustments to make in terms of new faces on the team and among the coaching staff. Longo wanted to set the foundation for a program that, he believes, will be one of the best in college hockey in the years to come.
Looking to the future, Longo isn't sure about his plans after graduation. He admitted he hasn't given it much thought, but would like to get his MBA and get a job in Pittsburgh, Pa. Longo wants to stay a major part of the Penn State hockey family, and wants to make an impact even after graduation.
"I always want to be part of this program as a player or as an alumnus in the future," Longo said. "I will come back for games and come back and visit. I want to come back as much as I can. You fall in love with this place."
Saad mentioned that the last home series is a bittersweet feeling for him. He said that it's exciting to play his last home games, especially against an ACHA team because that is where he began his journey to the Division I level.
Saad has scored a few game-winning goals in his career and has had some big moments as a Penn State hockey player. Looking back on the past four years, Saad shared two standout memories.
"My first goal scoring in overtime of my first game for the win," Saad said. "And obviously the transition to be able to play at the Division I level will always be in the back of my mind."
The adjustment to NCAA and his new teammates took some time in the beginning, but the transition went smoothly for Saad. The team needed the senior leadership from Saad and he delivered that, which is why he was named an alternate captain at the start of the season. He focused on leading by example for the new faces in the locker room.
"I wasn't expecting it because I was hurt in the beginning of the year," Saad said. "I was very honored that the guys showed that they could look up to me like that. I want to be a leader both on and off the ice."
Saad, a civil engineer major, believes the high quality of academics and resources at Penn State are what make it a special institution. When it comes to hockey, Saad said that having a fan base that bleeds blue and white made the transition easier and more fun to play.
"They've been behind us everywhere we've went," Saad said. "Having 19,000 fans behind us cheering 'We Are' is pretty special. From the alumni all the way down it's a special place and I have no regrets about coming here."
Saad isn't sure what he is doing after graduation, but he is talking to a few companies about a job. He is also thinking about attending grad school or going to work with his father.
The thought of playing in his last two home games at Greenberg Ice Pavilion has yet to set in for Steinour. He's enjoyed a great career at the club level, amassing 78 points in 82 games, and notched one assist this season at the NCAA level.
Steinour has been a key forward for Penn State, especially in the faceoff circle and on the defensive end. He admits that he will miss playing hockey, but admitted he is ready to move on to the next stage of his life.
Steinour enjoyed seeing the growth of Penn State hockey and having the opportunity to see the progress made each year. He reflected on the fun times he has had with all of the players that have come through the program at both levels, which made it hard for him to pinpoint just one specific moment that will stick with him moving forward.
"The games against Ohio and Oklahoma were very memorable," Steinour said. "The overtime wins against those programs were incredible experiences. The last two years doing the THON dance has been special. It's fun to get together with the guys and do something a little different."
Being recognized as a player that can translate from the club level to the Division I level is a great honor. Steinour couldn't ask to be in a better position to lead with his fellow seniors in the transition of this up and coming program. He enjoyed seeing the growth of the program and is honored to help establish the foundation of Penn State hockey.
"I'm proud of everything that Penn State has to offer," Steinour said. "One of the big reasons I came here was for academics and I'm proud to be part of that academic community as well as the athletic community."
Steinour is still unsure about his post-graduation plans, but continues to go through the interview process.
"I plan on getting a full-time job in research and design with mechanical engineering and then do some entrepreneurial work," Steinour said. "I have a product that I am working on getting a patent for through Penn State."
That product he has developed is a device that senses expansion and contraction in steam pipes. With Steinour's efforts away from the hockey rink, along with his experience in on the ice, are things that will help him find the job he is seeking after graduation.