By Erin Neri, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State assistant coaches Matt Lindsay and Keith Fisher have been an integral part of the Nittany Lion hockey team since the very beginning, making an obvious impact on the program along the way.
From on-ice responsibilities to the Nittany Lion recruiting operation, the pair of Penn State assistants have a big part in not only day-to-day operations, but the future of the team.
Both Fisher and Lindsay coached together in Princeton alongside head coach Guy Gadowsky, where they helped lead the Tigers to two NCAA Tournament appearances in 2008 and 2009 as well as the 2008 ECAC and Ivy League Championships.
With the trio working together for close to 12 seasons, when Gadowsky was offered the job in Hockey Valley, it was a no-brainer when it came to filling his staff.
"It was a very easy decision for [Fisher and I] when [Gadowsky] was presented the opportunity [at Penn State] and invited us along," Lindsay said. "I don't think I spent more than a minute or two thinking about it, I was 100 percent coming to Penn State to join him."
Lindsay and Keith post an impressive combined 35 years of college and junior hockey coaching experience and have been developing their chemistry together since 2007.
Both enjoy sharing all the responsibilities that come with being an assistant among themselves, both on and off the ice.
"We're kind of the jack of all trades," Fisher said. "I like how we spread responsibilities around the team, we all take part in everything."
While the college hockey season features competition from October through March, recruiting is a year round affair. With the three coaches the only permitted recruiters and Gadowsky spending significant time with the team, that means much of the recruiting is on the assistants.
Entailing long hours of traveling and communicating with recruits, both Fisher and Lindsay balance recruiting efforts alongside their team-specific responsibilities. With the talent pool for hockey players continuing to expand into more untraditional areas across the country like California and Florida, recruiting has only become increasingly more difficult on the logistical side, but it has also has yielded big rewards.
In addition to recruiting within the United States, the door is also open worldwide, spanning Europe and Canada. Penn State has already successfully recruited Nittany Lions internationally from Canada to England, Russia and even Finland.
"Even now in college hockey, it has become a much more popular spot for Europeans for development," Lindsay said. "You really are casting a really wide net."
Aside from scouring a vast set of potential locations on the recruiting trail, perhaps the most important thing for Fisher and Lindsay is finding prospective recruits who fit into the program's culture.
"Some of its knowing how we play and knowing what we value and it's not necessarily always easy to see," Lindsay said. "We do a lot of homework in terms of talking to their coach and other coaches in leagues that play against them to put together a general framework of what those kids are all about."
While it takes a special kind of individual to be a Nittany Lion, Lindsay and Fisher have been able to put together strong recruiting classes year after year that have been instrumental in Penn State's success on the ice.
One unique piece to Penn State and college hockey though, is the potential of an early departure to the NHL.
While a priority is to certainly prepare Nittany Lions for their possible professional careers after Penn State, the staff also has to think about planning ahead to fill positions that could be left open rather unexpectedly.
"That can be a little more difficult from a program standpoint because at the end of the day those decisions don't happen until the spring time and you know when everyone is graduating so you can plan a recruiting class out in that regard," Lindsay said. "With the free agent stuff, especially that can open up some holes you weren't anticipating early on."
Despite the multiple challenges that face these two assistant coaches and the staff as a whole, Penn State has still found a way to continue raising the bar when it comes to program success.
For both Lindsay and Fisher though, they refuse any of the credit for the program's success, rather placing it all on the Nittany Lions who committed here when the program was in some of its earliest stages.
"The special thing about it is, the group of seniors we have now committed here on blueprints," Fisher said. "They had no idea what the Pegula Ice Arena was going to be like and now we can bring recruits to experience it."
Without Fisher and Lindsay, Penn State men's hockey would look very different from what it looks like today. While they have been a key piece when it comes to the past of the program, they continue to shape the future.
"It's been really fun to see the evolution of the program and where we were at five or six years ago and where we are now," Lindsay said. "I think it's excited to try to look ahead and what can we do moving forward to take things a step further."