By Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After tallying a new program record with 21 wins in a season, the Penn State men's hockey team can look back on the 2015-16 season proudly.
The Nittany Lions started their season off strong, winning three of their first four home games in Pegula Ice Arena. The Nittany Lions had four sweeps during the season in Pegula, against AIC and Sacred Heart, as well as Big Ten foes Michigan State and Wisconsin.
Head coach Guy Gadowsky boasted how the Roar Zone continues to amaze the team and coaches alike, and the group is without a doubt a reason for the Nittany Lions amounting a 12-5-1 home record this campaign.
"Just looking at the season obviously lots of positives and takeaways, we sold out every game which I think is just tremendous, and not only are we continuing to improve, our Roar Zone is continuing to improve. I thought they were absolutely awesome so those are two big positives," said Gadowsky. "First 20-win season is great, I think third place in the Big Ten is a big accomplishment, as well."
Gadowsky pointed out that the Nittany Lions were able to develop offensively throughout the season, which contributed to adding more wins for the program. Comparing Penn State to other Big Ten offensive teams, such as Michigan and Minnesota is hard, explained Gadowsky, but nationally he pointed out that the team did very well.
Another high point for the team came in the form of the freshman class. Transitioning to college hockey can be tough, but this class seemed to fit right in from the start.
Freshman forward Andrew Sturtz led the team this season in goals with 18, followed by fellow freshman forward Chase Berger with 13, tied with senior forward Eric Scheid.
On defense, freshman Vince Pedrie and Kevin Kerr stood out as individuals who were willing to do anything for teammates, as well as were quick with a shot on net if needed.
"Another factor was how well our freshmen fit in," said Gadowsky. "I don't know if that's credit due to the freshmen or credit due to the upperclassmen who really did a great job at mentoring them but I think those were all positives for us."
With the season over, several Nittany Lions will be continuing their hockey careers beyond the walls of Hockey Valley.
Scheid signed a contract with the Portland Pirates of the AHL. Scheid notched 77 total points during his time wearing the Blue and White.
Senior goaltender Matt Skoff joined the Reading Royals of the ECHL on an Amateur Tryout Agreement (ATO). Skoff leaves Hockey Valley holding every career record possible for a goaltender at Penn State, including games played (77), victories (32), and saves (2,114).
Senior forward and alternate captain Luke Juha departs Penn State for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL on an Amateur Tryout Agreement. In his final season, the Ontario native notched 15 goals, the most ever by a Nittany Lion defenseman.
The only junior leaving the program, goaltender Eamon McAdam, signed his NHL contract with the New York Islanders. Drafted in 2013 by New York, McAdam finished out his junior season at Penn State by singing a three-year entry-level deal with the Islanders. McAdam played in 22 games during the 2015-16 season, 13 of those games were victories.
"It is difficult, and in this conference, the Big Ten conference you look at Minnesota who lost three juniors, it's something that you understand it's a possibility and in one strange sense you realize it's almost a factor of success," said Gadowsky of early signees. "If you have a lot of people signing early it probably means they did a good job."
Singing early, Gadowsky explained, is a testament to how well McAdam has played this past season, and how much vision the NHL has for the young player.
Whether they're departing Hockey Valley after graduation or for the pros, the departing Nittany Lions, including a senior class of eight, will forever be remembered by teammates, coaches, and fans as some of the most dedicated individuals the program has ever had.
Gadowsky noted in his final press conference of the season that now is a critical time for the program when it's in transition between seasons. He pointed out that the new freshman class joining the program would be bringing in decorated individuals who each bring a unique skillset to the table.
Seven new Nittany Lions will step onto the ice for Penn State this fall, including goaltender Peyton Jones, and 2015 Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick, Nikita Pavlychev.
USHL standout Denis Smirnov will also join the program this fall, after putting off his enrollment for a year to further his development.
Gadowsky is excited to welcome such a talented class to the program, and is confident they will smoothly transition into college hockey with a little help from the veterans.
With the Nittany Lions eager to welcome a new class and to get back onto the ice, it's all about looking ahead to next season and building off the successes of this season's campaign. The future is looking bright for a program that didn't even have the ice of Pegula Ice Arena to skate on four seasons ago.