By Pat White GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.--In the second installment of the senior profile, Rich O'Brien (Furlong, Pa.), Dominic Morrone (Sewell, N.J.) and Brian Dolan (Havertown, Pa.) reflect on their Penn State hockey careers heading into their last home game against ACHA opponent Oklahoma.
Head coach Guy Gadowsky is proud of the entire senior class for their roles in building the foundation for the Penn State hockey at the Division I level. They played a major part in some program-defining wins and helped the team succeed beyond anyone's expectations.
"The freshman came in and there was a new feeling of excitement and they were giddy to get started," Gadowsky said. "The seniors were the same way. They looked like little kids with wide eyes of excitement. I enjoyed sitting back and watching them. They are good guys, a lot of fun and I'm proud to have had them experience this [season]."
The seniors were brought over from the club team because they exemplified what Penn State is all about. They work hard both on the ice and in the classroom and represent what it means to be a student-athlete. Gadowsky brought them in to be an example to the younger players and he said they did that with flying colors.
Coming to Penn State, the thought of playing Division I hockey never crossed Dolan's mind. The senior defenseman is honored to have played a part in building an up-and-coming program for Penn State. Unfortunately for Dolan, he is sidelined with an injury and will not play in the final home series of his career. Nonetheless, he is proud of his hockey journey.
"The whole journey of making the team originally to [the seniors] was incredible with [the program] making the transition to a Division I program," Dolan said. "I'm excited to see where this program ends up. I'm proud to be a part of it."
Dolan was one of five Nittany Lions from the Philadelphia area who had the opportunity to play in front of the Philadelphia faithful at the Wells Fargo Center. It was a chance to showcase Penn State hockey to his hometown and for loved ones to see him play.
"I have a bunch of family and friends [in Philadelphia]," Dolan said. "A lot of people that saw me play that night have never seen me play. Just to play in front of that crowd, hometown people, and my family was great. Obviously it was a big win for our program, too."
Like some of his fellow seniors, Dolan is still going through the interview process. Majoring in film and video, Dolan is looking into sports broadcasting and sports media. He would like to work at ESPN or NFL Films in a production role.
The best word to describe the final game at Greenberg Ice Pavilion is bittersweet, which is how Morrone feels going into this weekend. He is happy about the direction of Penn State hockey, but admits it is going to be an emotional game. Morrone and the other seniors have accomplished great feats the past four years and bidding "The 'Berg" farewell is not easy.
Morrone echoed O'Brien, saying that the win against Ohio his freshman year when he assisted on the game-winning goal in overtime was one of his favorite memories. It wasn't until this year that that memory was trumped by a homecoming to Philadelphia.
"This year the Vermont game in Philadelphia was awesome," said Morrone. "Playing in front of a sold out crowd is awesome and you can't ask for much more than that."
Morrone's friends and family were in attendance for the sold out affair at the Wells Fargo Center. The opportunity to show people outside of State College that Penn State is a formidable hockey program was a great experience.
"It was great because not many people knew about Penn State, especially the caliber of team we are and how we progressed throughout the season," Morrone said. "To beat a well-established team like Vermont speaks volumes about this team. It was even better being able to do it close to home."
Morrone and the other seniors worked very hard to make it to this point and he hopes their legacy lives on. Morrone plans on getting his masters degree in accounting, and returning to Hockey Valley to watch the program continue to progress.
"We all love this place," Morrone said. "We look forward to coming back, especially with thePegula Ice Arena opening next year. We're trying to get back as much as we can. This is an exciting time for the program."
Penn State dealt with its fair share of injuries this season, especially on the back end. In the absence of some key defensemen, O'Brien stepped up as the wily veteran on the blue line, bringing a calming presence to the defensive corp. His adeptness at blocking shots and throwing big hits make him a key cog on defense.
O'Brien is excited for his last home series this weekend, but wants to finish it off with two wins against former ACHA rival Oklahoma. The history between the two teams dating back to the when Penn State was a club program is a great end of a great run at Greenberg Ice Pavilion.
"Probably one of my favorite memories is my freshman year. We played an away game against Ohio." O'Brien recalled of his club hockey days. "One of our seniors, Steve Thurston got a feed from Dom Morrone and scored a goal with 0.2 left on the clock in overtime. It was a great feeling. Oklahoma was always competitive against us and that was a big one."
O'Brien embraced the transition to the Division I level. He admitted it was challenging at first adapting to a roster laden with new faces and the speed of the game. It took time to get used to the new players, but it was part of the challenge posed to O'Brien to raise the level of his game.
"I feel like my game was improving at the ACHA level, but it could only go so far," O'Brien said. "It was nice to see that I could step up and play with the Division I teams. A lot of us proved that to ourselves that we can play at this level of hockey."
The last four years as a student-athlete have been very special to O'Brien. He said that he wouldn't change anything and has no regrets about coming to such a great university. O'Brien, a finance major, plans on staying in the State College area next year before moving on to bigger plans in the finance field in Atlanta, Ga.
"I'm set with a job and I'll be back here next fall semester," O'Brien said. "I'll be able hang out with some of the guys and then I'm off to Atlanta for a job."