By Andy Kuros, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State's season ended earlier than it anticipated following a first round lost to Denver in the NCAA Midwest Regional. Considering it was the second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance for a program that's only years six old, it's well worth noting the success the Nittany Lions have earned.
In his final wrap up of the year, Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky drew positives from a season that culminated in 18 wins and yet another postseason berth, even if the Nittany Lions didn't make it as far as they had hoped.
"Anytime you can get into the tournament right now in college hockey you should be very proud of that," Gadowsky said. "To do it two years in a row is something special and when you look at all the good programs that haven't been able to accomplish that, it's something you have to feel really good about."
For Gadowsky, making the NCAA Tournament twice fully demonstrates that the first appearance wasn't anything related to a one-off for the Nittany Lions.
"This is going to be a goal, and one that we feel is obtainable every year," Gadowsky said. "If we don't get there, then there will be adjustments made to make sure we give ourselves the best chance to make it."
Looking toward needs headed into next season, Penn State will be replacing the production from arguably its best Nittany Lions on each side of the puck. The Nittany Lions will lose their leading point scorer in forward Andrew Sturtz, who this past weekend inked an NHL contract with the Ottawa Senators. Penn State will also lose the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in Trevor Hamilton.
Looking at the departures, it's clear both Nittany Lions will be missed.
"(Andrew Sturtz) has brought a lot of goals and a lot of energy," Gadowsky said. "The community loved him for very good reason and we're going to miss him just like everyone in Pegula will miss him. Mostly, to be honest with you, with what he's done here academically. His grade point average is excellent and he's worked really hard on that. I give him a ton of credit for him to be a Big Ten champion and to go to the NCAA tournament two years in a row. He will get his degree this summer and then sign an NHL contract. What else could you want to accomplish? I'm very proud of him."
Gadowsky had similar words of praise for his senior defensemen Hamilton, who led the entire nation in blocks with 109 on the season and recently signed with the American Hockey League's Grand Rapids Griffins.
"It was really nice and well deserved," Gadowsky said reflecting on Hamilton's one-year deal. "If you put up the numbers he did both offensively and defensively, you expect something like that. I'm really happy to see it get done."
For Gadowsky and the team, turning the page after a disappointing game against Denver and improving focus for the future are all points of emphasis for his student-athletes.
"Immediately we reviewed the game against Denver, but now it's time to get back on it," Gadowsky said. "The one experience that Denver has given us and (what we have learned) throughout the year is we need to get better and we're going to do everything in our power to get better. This week was a quick evaluation of how that can happen. I think the players are hungry to get right back to training and they know that's going to be very important for them."For the Nittany Lions, that means developing a lean and mean approach when it comes to taking the next step as a program, a process that Gadowsky noted will start right away.