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Nittany Lions' Return Strong Nucleus

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By Michael Renahan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - At his final press conference of the season, it was easy to hear the excitement in Guy Gadowsky's voice when the Penn State head coach talked about the group of players returning to the ice for the men's hockey program next season.

It's a strong group, one now filled with experience, desire and plenty of talent. Outside of senior Mike McDonagh, Gadowsky and his coaching staff expect to have back all 26 of the Nittany Lions with remaining eligibility and they believe they are set to build off their strong 2013 season.

"We lose a tremendous person in Mike McDonagh, but we don't have significant other losses," Gadowsky said. "I think that's encouraging. If we continue to improve individually and as a team, I think it's very safe to say that we should only expect to get better."

Ask any one of the Nittany Lions, be it a player or coach, and they will tell you the experiences they took away from this season will be part of what goes into the preparations for next season and the next 10 seasons.

Whether it is working hard against a team like No. 1 Minnesota or battling ranked opponent after ranked opponent, the Nittany Lions went through a lot of growing pains over the past two seasons and that will only help them moving forward.

"The biggest thing for us is to keep those lessons in mind," sophomore netminder Matt Skoff said. "It's good that over 90 percent of the team is coming back with those lessons learned. I think that when you have so many guys coming back the only way we can go from here is up."

Part of the key for the Nittany Lions heading into next season is to remember how hard they worked this season. The last few games Penn State played this year - a 4-2 win over Ohio State and a 2-1 double overtime win over Michigan - will be on the minds of the players as they start to cool down from this season and prepare for next.

"From the beginning, we didn't know what to expect entering a new league with such historic programs," Skoff said. "Now we know that we can play against all of them, we can compete; we can beat them on a night-to-night basis. I think that is what we have to prove next year. We proved at the end of the year that we can compete with anyone at the most important time of the year."

The core of the team is what defines Gadowsky's unit. Part of what makes them special is the leadership the men in blue and white discovered over the season. Student-athletes like Skoff, Tommy Olczyk, Nate Jensen, and David Glen all now know what it takes to be successful at this level. They have been through the ups-and-downs of a rigorous season and are now prepared to take them on again.

"At any level of hockey, experience counts for so much," Olczyk said. "Having guys on your team that have found a way to win big games, and just win games in general is big in college hockey. Whether they are conference or non-conference games, they are all still really important. Having a lot of guys in the locker room that know how to win is very key and experience and chemistry count for a lot, too."

With that experience, and the knowledge of how of how to prepare and compete, the Nittany Lions are armed with lessons learned. Those lessons will help them against the elite teams on their schedule next season, including the Big Ten opponents they will see on a yearly basis.

"We played ranked teams like UMass Lowell, Union, Boston College in our [non-conference games], and we were able to compete with those teams," Olczyk said. "So I think that gives us a great piece of mind moving into next year and the [results] we had in Big Ten play were very positive and something to build on moving forward."

It won't be long before Hockey Valley is piling back into Pegula Ice Arena to watch the Nittany Lions once again. The foundation is being built, and the right pieces are in place. The Nittany Lions' nucleus is strong and ready for whatever challenges may come.

"We still have a long way to go, but I feel it's a great start," Gadowsky said. "I thought the guys proved [they could be competitive] when they really played their game. When we perform at a high level we can go blow-for-blow with the best teams in the nation and that was extremely encouraging for our team and our coaching staff."

 

--NITTANY LIONS--

VIDEO: Postseason Press Conference - Players

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- With their season wrapping up after an exciting trip to the Big Ten Tournament in St. Paul, Minn. the Penn State men's hockey program met with the media to wrap up the 2013-14 season. We caught up with some players and asked them about the season and what their success can do heading into the offseason.

 

--NITTANY LIONS--

What To Watch: Big Ten Semifinals

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Fresh off their double-overtime win over No. 12  Michigan to open the Big Ten Men's Hockey Tournament, the Penn State men's hockey team is now set to square off against No. 6 Wisconsin in the semifinals today at 3 p.m. 

The sixth-seeded Nittany Lions enter the game with a record of 8-25-2, while the second-seeded Badgers enter the game with a 22-10-2 record. The game will be aired on the Big Ten Network.

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Pregame Reading

What To Watch - Penn State
Shutdown Skoff: In yesterday's win, sophomore goalkeeper Matt Skoff played lights out for the Nittany Lions against the Wolverines, stopping a career-high 52 shots while keeping Michigan off the scoreboard for the game's final 41 minutes. In three starts against the Badgers, Skoff has recorded 86 saves - including 26 in an overtime loss the last time these two teams met on March 8.

Shoot To Score: Penn State comes into this game after recording a program-high 65 shots against the Wolverines. Casey Bailey led the charge with 11 rips on net, while four other Nittany Lions logged at least four shots of their own. In the four games vs. Wisconsin this season, Guy Gadowsky's squad improved their shot total game-by-game, putting 43 pucks on net in their last contest.

Holstrom Hitting A Stride: Redshirt junior Taylor Holstrom has been very effective as of late for the Nittany Lions. Over the last two games, the Yorba Linda, Calif., native has two goals on seven shots, 26 faceoff wins and continues to push the tempo on offense. He currently is third on the team in points with 17.

What to Watch - Wisconsin
Reliable Rumpel: Joel Rumple has been the man between the pipes for the Badgers this season and he has not disappointed. The junior goaltender has led his team to 19 wins this season, racked up 691 saves, and is second in the Big Ten conference with a .931 save percentage.  In four starts against the Nittany Lions this season Rumpel has registered 119 saves.

Quick To Assist: The Badgers main emphasis on offense this season has been their ability to effectively move the puck and generate scoring chances. They enter the Big Ten semifinal with 200 assists on the season, good for second in the conference behind only Minnesota's 210. Senior Mark Zengerle is Wisconsin's assist leader with 30 on the season.

Sound Defense: To go along with netminder Joe Rumpel, the Badger's defense has been a very stingy unit this season. They enter their contest with Penn State as the second-ranked team defense in the Big Ten allowing 2.50 goals per game. They are ranked first in the Big Ten in penalty killing, keeping opposing power play units off the scoreboard 83 percent of the time.

 

--NITTANY LIONS--

 

Skoff Focused on One Game At A Time

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By Michael Renahan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The regular season has come to an end for the Penn State men's hockey team, but that doesn't change much for Guy Gadowsky's team and goalie Matt Skoff. For the men in blue and white, the Big Ten Tournament is just another opportunity to collect some wins.

Since their win over Ohio State on Saturday night, the Nittany Lions have been preparing to travel to Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minn., for the first inaugural Big Ten Men's Hockey Tournament. It's a one-and-done situation for all six teams, and the Nittany Lions will matchup against No. 12 Michigan in today's opening round.

When postseason action comes around, some teams and players will change their thinking and start to focus on the tournament as a whole, but not these Nittany Lions. They are only looking at their contest against the Wolverines.  

"We have to just focus on our objectives," Skoff said. "We don't change the way we play for anyone, so no matter if it was Michigan or any other team in the Big Ten, we don't change the way we play."

Skoff was echoing the sentiment from his head coach. Penn State has seen Michigan four times this year, but they are only focused on this matchup. Skoff hasn't even thought about his shutout against the Wolverines 40 days ago. Nope, the sophomore goaltender and his team know it's all about this game.

"I'm not even thinking about [the shutout]," Skoff said. "I'm just worried about keeping them off the scoreboard and doing what I have to do to help my team win.

"I think you have to take it as just another game. At end of the day, we're playing Michigan again, so it's nothing out of the ordinary. We've played them before and we've had early games before, as well, so that's good. It is a bit of a short week which is a bit out of routine, but I don't think that will affect us."

Over the course of the season, Skoff has gained the trust of his head coach and there was no hesitation when Gadowsky and his staff thought about a starter in net for this weekend. The McKees Rocks, Pa., native has played well all season and earned the chance to start in net, according to his coach.

"We're going with Matt Skoff," Gadowsky said at his Tuesday press conference. "We made that determination after the season based on results. As always, we look at how you are as a teammate, your work ethic, your commitment to yourself as an athlete, and Penn State University, and our program. But he also has the results to back up the decision."

Skoff is the only Nittany Lion goalie with a win to his name this season, and his 572 saves are the most on the team. The sophomore goalie reiterated how excited but focused he is for this opportunity when he met with the media.

"It's nice to that the coaches have the confidence in me," Skoff said. "I know it's been a long year; it's been a battle between all three of us. That being said, I just have to focus on what I have to do to get the team a win just like any other game that I would start."

One of the x-factors in this game is the experience against Michigan and the fact that the game is in a National Hockey League arena. Skoff has experience in these arenas, and although his coach doesn't know if that affects much, he knows Skoff's overall experience - including in NHL buildings - can only be helpful for his goalie.

"I don't know [if experience in NHL buildings matters.] I wouldn't feel any differently if we were playing in a college arena," Gadowsky said. "He would be our choice regardless of who we are going against.

"I think all his experience helps. I mean [experience in NHL buildings] will help. He certainly has had that experience, but he has also won huge games against great opponents. Whether it's Pegula Ice Arena, on the road or on neutral ice in a NHL building, I think he'll play well."

 

--NITTANY LIONS--

Nittany Lions Closes Out Regular Season In Style

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By Michael Renahan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State Nittany Lions wrapped up their regular season with a 4-2 Big Ten victory over Ohio State on a special day for the men in blue and white and their lone senior, Mike McDonagh.

It was a sellout crowd and the energy was high in Pegula Ice Arena and head coach Guy Gadowsky's squad was hungry for a win after falling in the series opener. They scored two early goals and with the Buckeyes on their heels, never took their foot off the gas.

On the day the Nittany Lions were celebrating the career of McDonagh, the team captured the energy of the senior forward and left everything on the ice. One of those players, in particular, was Nate Jensen.

Over the weekend the defenseman made his first appearance on the ice since suffering an injury in early February. He scored the first goal of the game, and assisted on two others, marking his first career three-point game.

"He played well and it's very tough to be out [injured] that long and come back like that," Gadowsky said. "Tonight he was skating hard. [He had] a tremendous goal, and a couple of nice assists to go with it. He was making very calm passes right on the tape and it's great to have him back."

After looking tentative in the series opener - his first night back in 42 days - it was clear that Jensen found his swagger and helped lift the Nittany Lions to a win in the regular season finale.

"I got my touch back," Jensen said. "I got my confidence back [on Saturday]. The game was a lot slower for me tonight and it just felt good out there.

"There was just a buzz in the locker room before the game. You knew the guys are ready to play and we were going to come out flying. As soon as the puck dropped, I knew we were going to win that game."

Throughout the game, Penn State was clearly setting the tone and keeping their speed up. They manufactured strong offensive possessions and were putting pucks on sticks with their passes, a recipe for success for any hockey team.

It's small things like passing crisply that the team has been working on throughout the year and developing as a part of their game. Captain Tommy Olczyk knows how hard his team has had to work to earn a win like this, and he couldn't be more proud.

"It's [winning as a young program] isn't easy and our guys have done a good job of keeping each other focused this season," said Olczyk. "Thankfully you don't have to have a letter on your chest to be a leader. [Patrick] Koudys and [Matthew] Skoff have been two of the more vocal guys and we need guys like that. We have learned a lot from up to this point and I believe we can play with anyone. We've proved that to ourselves and moving forward that will be a big key."

Along with Jensen, the Nittany Lions got goals from Curtis Loik, Olczyk, and Taylor Holstrom. It was a complete team effort to earn the victory, and it sets the Nittany Lions up for a good week of practice before the Big Ten Tournament this weekend. According to Gadowsky, however, the whole season has set the team up for success next weekend, not just this one game.

"In my mind, [the win over Ohio State] is not what is spring-boarding us," he said. "The future success that we have comes from a lot of hard lessons and was a lot of hard work along the way that's helped us improve."

As we close the doors on the 2013-14 regular season, the progress and improvements made by this team have tremendous. The Nittany Lions have improved day-by-day, and it's fitting they end with a win.

"I think it's a fitting ending because of how far we have come," Gadowsky said. "We have improved in a lot of areas and this was a great win for us. It's also very fitting for McDonagh to go out a winner. He's a great guy who has meant so much to this program and I'm really happy for him."


They now turn their attention to Michigan, as they prepare for their first round game in the 2014 Big Ten Men's Hockey Tournament in St. Paul, Minn.


"We're still trying to improve every day," Gadowsky said. "We have three more practices to improve before we head to the Big Ten Tournament. We feel good about ourselves and it's nice to have a good result and a fairly good performance going into the postseason."

 

--NITTANY LIONS--

LIVE BLOG: Men's Hockey hosts Ohio State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to live in-game coverage on GoPSUsports.com for the Penn State men's hockey contest against Ohio State on Saturday, March 15 inside Pegula Ice Arena. 

BLOG: Memorable First Season Inside the Cathedral on Curtin

Be sure to interact with today's blog coverage with questions or comments at the bottom of our widget. Post your photos to Instagram or Twitter and use the #PennState or #HockeyValley and your photos may be chosen for use on our in-game coverage.


 

LIVE BLOG: Men's Hockey hosts Ohio State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to live in-game coverage on GoPSUsports.com for the Penn State men's hockey contest against Ohio State on Friday, March 14 inside Pegula Ice Arena. 

BLOG: Memorable First Season Inside the Cathedral on Curtin

Be sure to interact with today's blog coverage with questions or comments at the bottom of our widget. Post your photos to Instagram or Twitter and use the #PennState or #HockeyValley and your photos may be chosen for use on our in-game coverage.


 
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By Michael Renahan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the last time this season, the Penn State men's hockey team will lace up their skates, tape up their sticks, and take the ice inside Pegula Ice Arena.  


Pegula has been called the Cathedral On Curtain, a premiere college hockey facility, and lastly, but most importantly, a home.

A home for a team and a community alike.

The 200,000 square-foot, 6,000 seat arena with state-of-the-art amenities has become a pillar in the State College community and given an advantage to a very young program looking to change the landscape of college hockey. Terry Pegula, the arenas namesake, wanted the loudest arena in the country and he got it.

"I just love the atmosphere here," head coach Guy Gadowsky said. "We have the greatest student body in the world and they're incredible. I give all of our supporters a lot of credit this past weekend, with spring break and no students, I thought they did a great job of filling the arena.

"I just love the atmosphere in Pegula Ice Arena. Our fans are tremendous. I know it gives our players a lot of motivation to play in front of a passionate fan base. I know they love playing here."

Gadowsky and his team fell in love early with the facilities of Pegula Ice Arena. It gave them a clear advantage over opponents in their training, studies and practice time.

"This beautiful facility that we are able to train in, it's wonderful," Gadowsky said. "Everything is easily accessible right from our locker room. We have a great strength and conditioning room and training facilities that our players take advantage of daily. It makes it convenient for them to take advantage and it is something that can only help our program grow. The fact that the location is right in the middle of campus is tremendous for everyone."

In a year filled with outstanding moments, to pick just a few was hard. The clear place to start is opening night.

The hockey team got their season started in front of a sellout crowd on Oct. 11 agaisnt Army. The sellout was the first of 15 so far this season and the Nittany Lions earned their first win of the season, beating the Knights, 4-1. It was the beginning of a unique relationship between State College, a building, and their team.

After the game, the talk of the town was the excitement around this new team and this new arena.

In a season of firsts, Penn State's Big Ten opener came in the form of No. 1 Minnesota. Part of the hype around this season was the formation of the Big Ten hockey conference, which allowed the Nittany Lions to play some of the iconic college hockey programs. It was also the first time Hockey Valley would get a chance to see a top ranked team live. The Nittany Lions gave them everything they had, falling 3-2 on the opening game of the weekend.

The program and fans were now even more hungry for a Big Ten win and they got it just 26 days after their meeting with Minnesota. Then-no. 10 Michigan entered Pegula Ice Arena and won 7-3 in the series opener, but the second game was all Penn State.

The Lions score three times in the first period and Matthew Skoff made 32 saves to earn their first Big Ten win in shutout fashion. The arena erupted as the final horn sounded and the team reveled in the moment. It was fitting that the first Big Ten win came inside the Cathedral on Curtin. Skoff played exceptionally well in the contest to post the first Penn State shutout in the arena.

Maybe the most memorable part of this season, however, isn't a single moment. The memory is still fresh as Penn State wraps up the 20-game home slate. This season has been one memorable moment after another.


As the season comes to an end, Pegula Ice Arena ends its inaugural season. The huge moments that have come out of this season will without a doubt go a long way in shaping this program and signals the beginning of what is sure to be a long-lasting, historic building.

Penn State will open the final home series of the season on Friday, March 14 against Big Ten rival Ohio State. Game time is set for 7 p.m. on Friday night and 3 p.m. on Saturday.

"We have been improving a ton," Gadowsky said. "I think the guys all know it, the staff certainly recognizes it and this is a fun place to play. So I certainly would like to play a few more before going into the Big Ten Tournament. We are looking forward to this weekend one game at a time but we know it's been a heck of a year for us."

 

--NITTANY LIONS--

VIDEO: Practice Update - March 11

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's hockey team was on the ice for practice on Tuesday (March 11) after dropping a pair of games at No. 5 Wisconsin over the weekend. The Nittany Lions fell by scores of 4-2 and 3-2 in overtime and will host Ohio State on the final weekend of the regular season with a 6-24-2 overall record.

On Tuesday, we caught up with head coach Guy Gadowsky and senior Mike McDonagh to talk about the final home series of the season, senior weekend and what the team needs to do to find success against the Buckeyes this weekend.

Head coach Guy Gadowsky


Forward Mike McDonagh

 

--NITTANY LIONS--

Learning Experience or Not, Lions Want to Win

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By Michael Renahan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's hockey team fell twice to the No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers over the weekend - but not without a fight.

Guy Gadowsky's squad battled back from a three-goal deficit Friday night and forced overtime after trailing late in Saturday night's contest, showing the level of desire they have to win as the regular season draws to a close.

On Friday night, the two teams met for the first time since opening the Big Ten season against one another 13 weeks ago. The Badgers came out with a strong and caught the Nittany Lions on their heels early.

Wisconsin took a 3-0 lead into the second intermission, but then the Blue and White woke up in the third period and outworked Wisconsin in the third period.

"We've gotten the confidence that we can compete with anybody," forward Casey Bailey said after the game on Friday night. "I think we really feel like we're going to start winning these games. We're in all these [games] with the No. 1 and No. 5 teams in the nation, all these top ten team and all these great teams in our conference. We're disappointed that we aren't getting the win because that's what we're looking for."

The Nittany Lions looked to have renewed energy as the final 20 minutes got started. They scored a goal just over eight minutes into the third stanza, then again with one minute remaining to make it 3-2. The energy inside Pegula Ice Arena was palpable and Penn State looked poised to make one final push to force an overtime period.

This is the maturity the coaching staff has been seeing over the second half of the season. The team never once called it quits and figured they would get after it the next night; the Nittany Lions buckled down and got back into the game.

The storyline was similar Saturday night; only this time Penn State, in their freshly pressed camouflage sweaters, was the team setting the tone early. The puck dropped to start the first period and the Nittany Lions took it right at the Badgers. The defensemen were aggressive and kept pucks in the offensive zone, while the forwards continued to look to shoot and score.

Sophomore Matt Skoff got the start in net and looked composed as ever as he turned away shot after shot. The Nittany Lions trailed the Badgers after two periods, however, but the game was far from over. Penn State had outshot Wisconsin 32-19 through two periods and was a missed opportunity away heading to the third period tied.

As the third period got started, the Nittany Lions' desire was clear and the team found a way to knot the score with less than three minutes left. Kenny Brooks put one on net and it beat Joel Rumpel, the Big Ten's leader in nearly every goaltending category.

The game was headed to overtime in Hockey Valley.


Again, this is the maturity and desire Gadowsky has come to expect from this young Nittany Lion team shone through, but the Badgers earned when they converted on a 2-on-1 with just 20 seconds left in the overtime period.

"Obviously, it's a tough loss," Brooks said after Saturday nights' game. "I thought overall we played a very good game as a team, and that's the frustrating part that we lost when we did that. We played well as a team and we are taking steps forward. These are a good team and we just need to be better at pulling out wins when we're in close games."

It was another great learning experience for a young Penn State program, as the team once again proved they can play with just about anybody. As the season comes to a close, it's just one more thing this group of players can be proud about.

"I think that we are at a point where it's not only about playing well," said Gadowsky, "we want to take the very next step and win these type of games. We've played really well and if this was the first time we played really well against a top-five team we would probably be thrilled. But we've played really well against No. 1 Minnesota. We played really well against No. 2 Boston College and we've had these experiences and to take the next step we just need to close them out.

"We are proud of the stages that we've gone through this season and how far we have come as a team. This is just another [learning experience] for this program."

 

--NITTANY LIONS--