By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com
CINCINNATI, Ohio - Just a day before Penn State hockey's NCAA Tournament debut, the Nittany Lions took to the ice for the first time at U.S. Bank Arena. Following practice, head coach Guy Gadowsky and Nittany Lions David Goodwin, Andrew Sturtz and Peyton Jones all took time to meet with members of the media.
Check out a few top takeaways from the press conference.
They Deserve It
As Gadowsky mentioned earlier this week, Penn State is well aware of how difficult it is to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament, and with the achievement, the Nittany Lions will carve out some time to enjoy the moment, among a business as usual approach.
"They deserve everything," Gadowsky said. "To win back-to-back double-overtime games after playing on a Thursday, they absolutely deserve it. The university is extremely supportive and excited. It has been a blast, and I do not want it to end."
As the thrill of Penn State's first Big Ten title in program history continues to remain fresh on the minds of the Nittany Lions, the challenge of channeling the same momentum in a relatively short turnaround is one the staff isn't taking lightly. Having played just more than 240 minutes in a 52-hour stretch, both mental and physical recovery has been at the forefront of NCAA Tournament preparations this week.
"Over the past week, we did a good job of getting our bodies back to normal with our athletic trainer, trying to get back in shape for this weekend," Andrew Sturtz said. "We did a good job with that and over the course of the weekend, we're trying to keep the team light like last weekend at Big Ten's and not take too much of the outside pressure into the locker room. We're just going to have fun with it and play a good game tomorrow night."
He Said It
Union head coach Rick Bennett had some high praise for the surging Nittany Lion squad earlier this afternoon, noting Penn State's growth as a program has been impressive to watch from afar. Although the series record shows the Nittany Lions behind 0-4-0, each of the last two most recent outings during the 2013 season were separated by just one goal.
"We've had the chance to play them four times and each time that we've played them the games have gotten better and better," Bennett said. "I think that's all due to head coach Guy Gadowsky, his staff and the players they have in the program. Gadowsky plays a different style and he has carried that style from Alaska to Princeton and to Penn State. It's been really impressive to watch from a distance, but now the distance has gotten very close and tomorrow it's going to be right in front of us."
For Goodwin, who was a freshman on the squad in the most recent series against the Dutchmen, Penn State has come along way since 2013.
"Specifically this team, is probably a little deeper than we were back then and we definitely play more consistently than we did that year," Goodwin said.
Gadowsky noted that there hasn't been a team the Nittany Lions could compare Union to when taking a closer look at Penn State's first NCAA Tournament opponent.
"I think they present some unique challenges because they have two scorers that are in the top four of the nation, and they play on different lines," Gadowsky said. "I do not think there is any team this year that I can remember having a situation like that."
Mike Vecchione and Spencer Foo are leading a potent Union offense that features a variety of scoring options. Together, Vecchione and Foo have combined for 122 points and 53 goals, the most of any duo among the 16-team NCAA Tournament field this year.
Aside from the Vecchione and Foo though, the Dutchmen also present some familiarity for the Nittany Lion staff in terms of program culture.
"They have a tremendous work ethic, they always have," Gadowsky said. "Now they add two top scorers in the nation. We know that they can beat you in a number of ways. We very much respect the way they play. I do not think we can compare them to anyone we have played this year."
Third-seeded Penn State and second-seeded Union officially get underway Saturday, March 25 at 4:30 p.m. in U.S Bank Arena. The matchup will stream live on ESPN3.
Roar Zone Growth
As Gadowsky also noted, with Penn State hockey's growth, it's student section has also grown tremendously.
"They have been phenomenal from day one," Gadowsky said. "I love college hockey and the student sections are a big part of that. There are some great ones not only in our league but across the nation. I don't mean any disrespect to any of others, but the Roar Zone is the best I have ever seen. As we have improved, so have they. They are unbelievable now."
A proud piece of the Nittany Lion family, the Roar Zone doesn't just keep to Pegula though, often hitting the road to join Penn State on the road.
"We believe that they're top notch and feel fortunate to play in an arena that has fans with that much passion and energy for us, win or lose," Goodwin said. "We've also been fortunate that they travel with us as well. I wouldn't be surprised if we see some of them in Cincinnati this weekend."
Reach Arielle at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent