By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With just under a minute left in the third period of the season opener, the Nittany Lions found themselves trailing UConn, 2-1, in front of the 6,017 fans in attendance at Pegula Ice Arena.
Goalie Matthew Skoff quickly skated off the ice, an extra attacker taking his place, and Penn State made one final push to even the score. As the clock wound down to 48 seconds, the Lions accomplished their mission. David Goodwin found the back of the Huskies' net, forcing an overtime battle.
"I was just kind of there, just kind of whacking and grinding there in front," Goodwin explained. "Honestly, I saw the Roar Zone put their hands up before anything. I saw that and then I put my hands up, and I scored. It was a good sequence of events, but I think [Casey] Bailey shot it and hit [Dylan] Richard's chest. Then [Taylor] Holstrom took it to the net."
Although the game ultimately ended in a 2-2 tie following overtime and an exhibition shootout, head coach Guy Gadowsky had a number of positives to take away from the matchup.
Surprisingly, he also had another list of program "firsts" to add to the Penn State hockey history books.
"Positives would be we scored a shootout goal, which we hadn't in the past," said Gadowsky. "We scored a penalty shot goal, which we hadn't in the past. We came back and scored with 43 seconds, whatever it was, to come back and tie a game. Those are all positives."
The penalty shot, taken by Tommy Olczyk, and the shootout goal, scored by Bailey, both were defining moments for not only the game, but also for the program.
Last season, Penn State's lone penalty shot opportunity was also awarded to Olczyk in a game against Boston College. While he was unable to beat the goalie in that situation, he made his efforts count during the second period Friday night and tallied Penn State's first penalty shot goal.
"I'm definitely not known for my goal scoring, but it's nice to get one there in the way that it happened," said Olczyk. "I'd been in that situation before. The one against BC I was a lot more nervous, so this one I didn't really have any nerves. I just went for it."
Another first, Bailey's shootout goal, ended Penn State's 0-9 shootout attempt streak.
Gadowsky credits much of the team's late-game success to Penn State's student section, which remained lively and active throughout the game, making its presence known.
"You know what, boy the student body was awesome tonight," said Gadowsky following the game. "I actually think they had a lot to do with us tying it up late, which was nice to see. I thought we played really well in the first and didn't have the same jump in the second, but in the end, I mean came back in the third when we were down, pulled the goalie. I think, as I said, the student body deserves a lot of credit for that. They helped a ton."
The Nittany Lions and Huskies will conclude their two-game series Saturday at 3 p.m. at Pegula Ice Arena.
Recently in Men's Hockey Category
By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome to GoPSUsports.com's live, interactive coverage of Penn State men's hockey. Today, the Nittany Lions open their season at home against UConn.
By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's hockey team is set to open its season at 7 p.m. Friday night at Pegula Ice Arena against the University of Connecticut. The Huskies currently hold a 2-0 series advantage over the Lions, which is a statistic Penn State hopes to even up with this weekend's home series.
Limited Practice Time
The Lions had their first official practice of the season Saturday morning, allowing very little time to prepare for the Oct. 10 season opener. Regardless, the team worked hard during both this first week with the coaches, as well as during captain's practices over the course of the past month.
Prior to the start of official practice, the Penn State coaching staff was limited to just eight hours a week on the ice with the team, meaning much of the practice planning landed on the shoulders of captains Patrick Koudys, Nate Jensen and David Glen.
"We had 30 minutes four times a week, so the captains were responsible," explained head coach Guy Gadowsky. "They'd warm up the team, and I don't know what they did. That was up to them. We'd come on and run what we went over the meeting before. Then we'd get off the ice, and it was up to them again."
Despite the time restraints, Gadowsky made the most of the time he had with his team, touching on all aspects of the game as quickly as possible. This approach has changed now that timing is no longer an issue.
This week, Gadowsky chose to focus on parts of the game the team has struggled with in the past. Addressing those specific issues will help the Lions become a better, harder team to play against.
While the team may not feel as prepared as they would like for this opening series, one thing is certain. Penn State is much further ahead than they were October of last year.
"I think part of that is just that there's a lot less newness to what we're doing," Gadowsky said. "We've been in the building. We didn't have to move in the building. There's not a lot of fanfare in terms of this is the first ever game in Pegula, so I think our focus is a lot more in the present, which is a good thing.
"Last year, was tremendously fun. We're very grateful to go through that experience, but I think it's probably easier to stay in the present this year. That's one factor. The other factor is we have a lot of returning players that are already familiar with what we do, so we're trying to get the three new guys acclimated, but as a whole, we're in a much better place."
The number of returning student-athletes is something Jensen also believes will greatly benefit the Lions. The team chemistry is already present, and everyone is ready to pick up where they left off.
"It feels like the end of last year," the defenseman said. "We have pretty much the whole team back. We have a couple new guys that are just getting used to the system. They're stepping in right away, but it pretty much feels like we're coming in from last year."
Taking on UConn
The Lions and the Huskies met for the first time during the 2012-'13 season, Penn State's first as a Division I hockey program. Although the Lions were swept during the series, it is clear that they are now a much more mature, experienced team.
Nevertheless, Gadowsky still believes the major focus needs to be on his team, as opposed to scouting the Huskies, in order to properly prepare.
"We still have so much of us that we're not going to waste any time," explained the head coach. "We were even asked if we want tape. We do not. We are focusing on us solely."
Even with the main focus on Penn State, Gadowsky knows this UConn team will be much different than the one he and the Lions faced merely two years ago.
The Huskies are set to begin their second season under head coach Mike Cavanaugh and their first season in Hockey East.
"I think he'll do a tremendous job there in his second year," Gadowsky said of Cavanaugh. "You're going to start to maybe see a little more of his personal identity. By only graduating four and bringing in nine, it sort of looks like to me that they're probably moving in a new direction."
Loik, Glen, Brooks
Preparing for Friday, the Penn State coaching staff has decided lines for the 7 p.m. puck drop; however, only one of these lines is completely set in stone.
Forwards Curtis Loik, Glen and Kenny Brooks have played on a line many times before, and Gadowsky is confident they will be successful again this season.
"That line sort of automatically seemed to have synergy from day one," explained Gadowsky. "We always toy with moving them apart and getting other things going, but they somehow seem to gravitate together."
Gadowsky expects this line in particular to be "incredibly difficult to play against" and is ready to see what they can do against the Huskies this weekend.
Return to Pegula
With the season's start comes taking the ice at Pegula Ice Arena once again and competing in front of the student section, which the team and coaches cannot wait to do again.
"This is the best rink in college hockey," said Jensen. "These guys are just awesome and so loud and just so energetic. I can't wait to step on the ice."
Student season tickets sold out within just minutes this year, meaning the students are ready to pack into the Roar Zone, to cheer loudly for their team, but most importantly, to watch Penn State hockey again.
"Every time the game ends, it's so much fun with the student section that we just can't wait to play again," said Gadowsky. "It's finally here."
Six of the Nittany Lions took the first steps toward accomplishing that goal this summer when they attended the development camps of five different NHL organizations.
"I can tell you every one of them had a very positive experience," said head coach Guy Gadowsky. "They all said that they learned things. Some were a little different. Some were surprised to find out that the areas that we stress were very similar to certain teams."
In attendance at the various camps were forward Casey Bailey, defenseman Patrick Koudys, goaltender Eamon McAdam, forward Zach Saar, forward Eric Scheid and goaltender Matthew Skoff.
Koudys, a Washington Capitals draft pick, and McAdam, a New York Islanders draft pick, both joined the camps of their prospective teams. The remaining four individuals received invitations from the following organizations: Bailey from the Calgary Flames, Saar from the Capitals, Scheid from the Minnesota Wild and Skoff from the San Jose Sharks.
"I think it was a really good camp for me," said Scheid of his experience with the Wild. "It was interesting to kind of be on the ice with some professional coaches and some guys that have played pro hockey, kind of just watching them and picking their brain a little bit."
While each NHL organization structures its camp in a different manner, the opportunities available to the players in attendance are unparalleled. These student-athletes not only participated in on and off-ice training with the coaches and training staff, but they also learned the expectations that go hand-in-hand with being a professional athlete.
One of those expectations is consistency.
"Those guys that are the leading scorers, like Sidney Crosby and guys like those, they're coming to play every single night," Scheid explained. "They don't get nights off because they're needed every single night, so the biggest thing I've been trying to work on, and that I would like to see myself improve on, is just being consistent and coming to play every single night and trying to make an impact the best I can every single night. If I can do that, I think I can help our team achieve a few more victories."
A little bit further west, Skoff also learned some very important lessons and tidbits while working with San Jose's goalie coaches.
The junior, who attended an NHL development camp for the second-consecutive year, made observations and took in every tip from the Sharks' staff in an attempt to further enhance his skills. More importantly, the experience gave Skoff hope for the future.
"I think it just sets a belief that someday you could be there," said Skoff regarding the experience. "Just working on little things, like habits, and looking at the returning guys that they had play in the NHL a couple games and how they go about in practice, it's nice to look up to. To see how they model themselves in practice and in the weight room is huge. That's a huge part of the game today if you want to play at that level."
While the opportunity to train with an NHL organization's prospects teaches lessons, it also helps build confidence, which is what the Lions want to carry into this season.
"Sometimes that's what an NHL camp can do," said Gadowsky. "It can give you a lot of confidence, so everybody had a great experience. They probably learned different things, but I'm sure their confidence is greater because of it."
With the lessons learned at these NHL camps coupled with the team's experiences last season, the Nittany Lions are looking forward to all this season has to bring.
"Confidence is a good thing to have all year round," said Skoff. "I think right now, confidence with the boys is pretty good."
By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Three years ago, James Robinson, David Glen, Dylan Richard and Mike Williamson were all on the roster of the same team in Alberta.
Following that season, the four went their separate ways. They have now been reunited at Penn State, as Robinson has rejoined the group and is prepared to begin his first season as a Nittany Lion.
Robinson's decision to attend Penn State was simple in his mind, especially since he was very familiar with a few of the people he had once called, and would again call, his teammates.
"Having three other guys from Alberta and knowing that they made the transition pretty simply and like it down here, I figured that I could relate to them pretty well," said the forward. "I was in touch with them throughout the recruiting process, so they definitely helped me through it. I think I definitely made the right decision."
Although familiarity with some of the other student-athletes played a role in the forward's commitment to Penn State, he knew the hockey opportunities available would be unparalleled.
Nevertheless, Robinson chose Penn State for more than its athletics.
"School has always been a big part of my life, so with the academic support they have here at Penn State and then again, the athletics here are just second to none and really the student body," Robinson said. "Between the three aspects there, it was a no-brainer for me."
Stepping back into the classroom has been an adjustment for the freshman, who spent the last two years focusing solely on his hockey career. The transition from athlete to student-athlete has taken time, but Robinson is slowly growing accustomed to the academic demands of college life.
"The school aspect has been going well, and the hockey aspect has been going well too," Robinson said. "I took two years off of school, so that's kind of been a bit of a difficult process getting back into it, but it's been going well."
During his two-year hiatus from the student lifestyle, the 6-foot-1 forward played for the Langley Rivermen of the British Colombia Hockey League. Last year, Robinson notched 42 points in the team's regular season with 15 goals and 27 assists. He also collected 42 points the previous season.
Throughout his time with the Rivermen, Robinson served as an assistant captain twice, demonstrating his leadership abilities. Robinson hopes to contribute the lessons learned from those experiences as a captain to the Nittany Lions this season.
"I think leadership is something that can be provided by someone whether you're wearing a letter or not," the freshman said. "I think it's just how you carry yourself as a person. I like to think of myself as a leader, whether I lead by example or speaking up in the room, whatever it is. I just take pride in being a leader."
Leadership is not the only contribution Robinson hopes to offer the team this season, as he also hopes to make plays and be an effective forward for the Lions in their second year at Pegula Ice Arena.
"I think my style of play is that I can play all ends of the ice," the forward said. "I'm a hard worker. I like to take care of my D-zone first. I like to kill penalties, but when I'm in the offensive zone, I like to get pucks to the net and try to provide chances for the team."
As Robinson looks forward, he is more than ready to take the ice for his first game as a Nittany Lion. Attending Penn State has started a new chapter of his hockey career, and the freshman is prepared to take on whatever may come his way.
By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With 4,209 miles separating State College and Espoo, Finland, Erik Autio has found himself worlds away from his home this year. The Finland-native has not only had to transition to a new team, but he has had to emerge himself in a new culture, a new language and a new style of hockey.
Deciding to make the move to the United States and to collegiate hockey was one that made perfect sense to the freshmen. Autio quickly realized choosing Penn State would offer him the opportunity to not only play a highly competitive level of hockey, but it would also allow him to work toward advancing academically.
"The level of play in Finland, if you want to play on the best level, you don't have time to do studying at the same time," Autio said. "Coming over here gives me the opportunity to get my education as well as play good hockey, so that's what I wanted to come here for."
While the academics and hockey at Penn State have been treating the defenseman well, other aspects of the move have been a bit more difficult. With time Autio will grow accustomed to the American culture, but for now, he is happy to have the support of his teammates and coaches.
"I'm still working on it and getting used to stuff, but the guys are helping me out a lot," Autio said. "I like that, and their support makes it so much easier for me to do everyday stuff."
Autio hopes to repay the favor by contributing on-ice as much as possible during the 2014-'15 run, using his experiences to help propel the team to success.
Since 2010, Autio has been a member of the Espoo Blues at a number of junior levels. Most recently, the defenseman competed for the team's under-20 squad and served as an assistant captain.
Additionally, Autio helped lead the Blues to the 2014 Finnish Jr. A SM-liiga championship and recorded a plus-26 rating during the regular season.
This past August, the defenseman also competed with Finland's national under-20 team at USA Hockey's National Junior Evaluation Camp, where he was able to go up against some of the world's best young players. The experience is one Autio feels greatly benefited the growth of his hockey career.
"It was a great opportunity for me to play against the best players in the world of my age," said the freshman. "It's always a big honor for me, great honor for me to represent my own country, so I'm hoping that maybe later on this year I might be playing for the under-20 team in National Championships in Toronto. That's one of my biggest goals for this season."
If Autio accomplishes this task, he will be the first Nittany Lion to compete in the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship, which is scheduled to begin in late December. Finland is the reigning world champion.
Although the tournament is in the near future, Autio's main priority and focus is on being the best defenseman he can be for the Nittany Lions.
Standing at 5-foot-10, Autio tends to shy away from big hits, instead focusing on his ability to move the puck quickly and to jumpstart the offensive game.
"I'm just looking at the first game right now and trying to focus on that," Autio said. "It's going to be my first game, but I'm really excited for the home-opener. I've never been to a Penn State hockey game before, so it's going to be a lot of new stuff for me."
"I hear they're really loud," he added of the student-section. "I want to hear them this season."
Espoo, Finland may be 4,209 miles away from State College, but Autio is finding a new home in Penn State, and he's excited to see where this journey will lead.
By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Reporters, photographers and video cameras filled the media room of Pegula Ice Arena Tuesday afternoon for the annual Penn State men's hockey media day.
Head coach Guy Gadowsky fielded questions for 30 minutes about the Big Ten Conference, the overall excitement surrounding the upcoming season and the development of the team over the past year.
Here are some sights and sounds of this year's men's hockey media day.
With an endless list of firsts now behind the team, the Lions know what to expect of this season. They have played their first Division I game. They have played their first game in Pegula Ice Arena. They have played their first Big Ten game.
Furthermore, the Nittany Lions have an almost identical roster to that of last year's team. With the loss of only one, and the addition of three freshmen, the Lions are mature and much more prepared for the season that lies ahead.
ready to pick up from where they left off last season.
"This is the first year we have that continuity," said Gadowsky. "We know where we are. We know who we're starting with. Although there are three unknowns, the basic core of the team is the same. We expect that we're going to be a lot further ahead come October 10 than we were October 11 last year on our opening night, and basically due to the fact that everybody is together. We've been through it with our systems. We've been through it against an opponent. We were able to play against the top teams in the nation, including conference games where it's so important. As a team maturity, we're way ahead."
Big Ten Conference
Playing in the same conference as teams like Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin allows the Lions to compete at a high level day in and day out. Teams are getting stronger and more skilled each year, and this season is no exception.
"Every other program in the Big Ten, that's what makes this so exciting, has a tremendous history, has a lot of success, whether it was nationally in the CCHA or the WCHA," said Gadowsky. "Their goal is to get better, just like ours, so with Penn State getting better, I really hope to see a lot more parity, but at the same time when you play in the Big Ten with these hockey programs, you're going to be playing someone great every night."
Penn State will play a total 20 conference games this season, the first of which will be at Michigan on Nov. 21.
During the off-season, the Nittany Lions announced a change in captaincy, awarding defenseman Patrick Koudys the "C" for the 2014-'15 run.
Although many fans wondered about the impact of the switch on not only the team, but also former captain Tommy Olczyk, Gadowsky reinforced this change will ultimately assist the Lions in learning a very important lesson.
"It establishes the fact that you don't have to wear a letter to be a great leader, and we do want to establish that," Gadowsky said. "This is one way we can do it. At the same time, Patrick Koudys, he certainly has earned that, and he's earned the respect of the team."
Koudys, who is a Washington Capitals draft pick, proved his dedication to Penn State hockey, and was a unanimous decision for the position following a player vote.
"He's just a man," Gadowsky said of Koudys. "He's a manimal. He's the guy. Everybody can see it, so he's the guy."
Looking ahead, the Lions are scheduled to make the trek to Alaska for games on Oct. 17 and Oct. 18, which is a trip Gadowsky and the team are both looking forward to.
"Probably the main reason is I really enjoyed my time in Alaska," Gadowsky said of why he wanted his team to play these games. "They love hockey, and I would like to share that experience with our guys. For the majority of our team, they've never been to Alaska, so this is one great way to see it."
Unlike the majority of the team, forward Casey Bailey makes the trip to Alaska regularly. These games will allow the Alaska-native to play in his home state in front of family and friends.
"The guy who's most versed in it is Casey Bailey, so he's actually going to present to the team the week that we go up there about the Do's and the Don't's of traveling in Alaska," said Gadowsky.
"If things don't go well," he jokingly added, "it's not our fault. It's his."
The facility, which helped convince Conway to attend Penn State, is merely one of the reasons he has found himself in State College this year. Now, the forward is excited for the season to begin and more than ready to get his first real taste of hockey as a Nittany Lion.
Although he grew up in England, Conway has been playing hockey in the states for a few years now. He will once again find himself a long way from home and from his family this season.
The freshman currently holds dual citizenship in Great Britain and in Canada, the home countries of both his parents.
"My mom's English, and my dad's Canadian," Conway explained. "My dad played hockey in the states and in Canada. At an older age, he moved over there to play hockey in England. That's where he ended his career and met my mom, so that's how it happened."
Despite being away from home, the forward knows with certainty that choosing Penn State was the right decision for the advancement of both his hockey and academic careers. Almost immediately following Conway's first tour of the arena and of campus, he was hooked on the university and all that it had to offer.
"I had a tour around campus," said Conway. "It was actually my first visit, and looking at the facilities, it was unbelievable. The weight room just got put in the day before I came here, so I was pretty excited to see that with all the weights and stuff in there.
"Coach [Keith] Fisher took me up to the student section, right at the top, and it was an unbelievable view up there. He took me around campus too, and it was so pretty. I couldn't say no."
Last season, the 6-foot forward found himself competing for the USHL's Indiana Ice, a team he helped lead to the Clark Cup title during the 2013-'14 season.
Conway tallied 33 goals during the year and was tied for first in the league with a plus-40 rating. Additionally, he recorded the first four-goal game in the team's history, demonstrating his dominance on the ice.
"I think a lot of it is mental toughness, on and off the ice," Conway explained of his personal success and the success of his previous team. "I think our coach did a nice job last year of making us do the little things right, and I'm hoping to bring that to this team this year."
Conway is also looking to help the Lions skill-wise this season. He is a forward that likes to not only work the corners and take pucks to the net, but he also keeps his eyes focused, looking for open teammates to make plays.
Even with his past experiences, Conway knows making the jump from junior hockey to the collegiate level will be a process, and he has already begun to experience some of the changes that go hand-in-hand with the transition.
"I feel like a lot of sticks go flying everywhere in college hockey compared to junior hockey," Conway said. "The guys in college hockey are a lot stronger than the guys in junior hockey and a lot more physical. The tempo is pretty much the same, but I'm excited to play some games here."
Looking forward, Conway is anxiously awaiting the moment he gets to put on his jersey, lace up his skates and take the ice at Pegula Ice Arena for his first game as a Nittany Lion. He has a few dates circled on his calendar, but there is not a single game the freshman is more excited for than the season opener.
"Definitely the home opener," Conway said. "My dad is coming to the first game, and I have a couple friends that are too. I'm really excited to play in front of them. The student section sold out in like three minutes, so I'm pretty pumped about that too."
By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Wearing the "C" or "A" in hockey means something much more significant than donning an extra letter on the front of a jersey. These letters represent ideals such as leadership, experience, strength and dedication.
As announced in June, defenseman Patrick Koudys will serve as captain this season for Penn State, while defenseman Nate Jensen and forward David Glen will both reprise their assistant captains roles.
The three Penn State hockey captains were chosen based on a team vote at the conclusion of the Spring 2014 semester. The results were then taken to the coaching staff to both approve the team's selections and finalize the decision.
"It's a huge honor," said Koudys of his captaincy. "We had a great bunch of guys, so it's obviously a nice thing when a lot of the guys think that about you, but we've got a lot of guys who are in the locker room leading, so it's kind of easy for me.
During the 2013-'14 run, the Ontario-native blocked a team-high 79 shots and was one of only four Nittany Lions to compete in all 36 games. The 6-foot-3 defenseman also recorded a career-high eight points, tallying two goals and six assists on the season.
While this may be Koudys' first year as a captain for the Blue and White, two veterans join him. This season will mark Jensen's third and Glen's second consecutive year as assistant captains.
Glen and Jensen both appeared in 32 and 28 games, respectively. Jensen's eight missed games were all due to injury. The defenseman totaled 10 points with a career-high three goals, one of which was the first ever scored at Pegula Ice Arena.
"I lead by example," said Jensen. "I go out there every day and work hard, and hopefully the younger guys follow me, see what I do. "
Three of Glen's four absences can be attributed to the bone marrow donation procedure he underwent in late January and early February. Throughout his 32 games, the forward accumulated a plus-three rating, earning him recognition as the sole Lion with a positive mark.
All three are ready to work together and help their team continue on the path of success this season.
"Koudys is our captain this year, and he does a great job," said Jensen. "He leads by example, and he has a voice to him too. Glen and I are just his disciples. We help him out whenever we can. Since he's still kind of new, we fill him in on some stuff, but we all work as a team really well. I think that's what makes our captains really great."
As a captain, there are a number of added responsibilities, one of which includes coordinating schedules with all student-athletes on the 27-man roster.
"I think a main part of it is organization," Koudys said. "I have to try to organize 26 guys and myself to be doing the same thing, whether it's on the ice or off the ice, especially now when the coaches aren't allowed on the ice. I try to get practices going and things like that, but like I said, we've got a great group of guys so I wouldn't say it's difficult by any means. Everyone's doing the right thing and trying to get better out there, so it's pretty easy for me."
Although the Penn State squad is mostly comprised of upperclassmen veterans, the captains still act as mentors. Koudys, Jensen and Glen are all people the rest of the team, including the three freshmen, can look to for guidance and advice.
"We kind of take care of the freshmen a little bit more," Jensen explained. "If they have any questions, we help them out. Other than that, if any of the guys have some questions outside the rink, or needs someone to talk to, we're always there. We're just kind of a big brother to lean on."
With eight seniors, nine juniors and seven sophomores on the roster, 24 of the 27 student-athletes are returning members, which not only gives the Lions an added edge but also leadership that expands far past the three captains.
"Our whole senior class, and then even the juniors, we've got a lot of older guys," said Koudys. "Everyone is kind of a leader in their own way, whether it's on the ice or in the classroom. I think if you look around the room, everyone has certain qualities that you try to do and try to beat, and if everyone is doing that, we're doing just fine."
With the majority of last year's team still intact, the dynamic finish to the 2013-14 year and a thrilling performance in the Big Ten Tournament is still fresh in the minds of the Lions. Penn State hockey and its captains are ready to pick up where it left off.
"We need to build off last year," Koudys said. "I think we grew as a team, so we need to continue from where we finished and come back this year at that spot or better. I feel like we're in better shape than last year. Guys are working really hard right now, and I expect to win more games and go from there."
"With everyone coming back, we're looking to make some noise this year," added Jensen. "I'm not going to say a Big Ten Championship, but I don't think we're far from it. I think we're going to have a great year."
By Julie Bacanskas, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - While most Penn State fans were basking in a football victory last weekend, the men's ice hockey team had someone more special to celebrate, Colton Buckley. Buckley, the team's THON child, not only turned eight this past Saturday, but he also got to see his "big brothers" for the first time since officially beating cancer.
Tucked back behind Jeffrey Field, the team hosted a post-game birthday and cancer-free tailgate for the 8-year-old, complete with cake, singing, presents and party masks.
"He got cancer free recently, which is huge," said sophomore forward Ricky DeRosa. "Everybody was so excited for him and everything. He was actually the THON child at the football game today, so we figured they were coming up here, which gave us a great opportunity to have a little birthday party tailgate for him."
Buckley's nomination to serve as an honorary captain for a football game this year put the tailgate plan into motion. His mother, Nicole, originally tried to schedule the appearance for the annual THON football game, but after all spots were filled, she quickly realized the home opener would be a great second option.
At the game, Buckley was brought down to the field of Beaver Stadium, rushed around from place to place, introduced to countless people and even featured on the video boards. The overall experience was something new for him, but throughout the entirety of the day, Buckley knew he had his post-game party with the team, his extended family, to be even more excited about.
"Colton is our THON child," said newly appointed captain Patrick Koudys. "Some of the guys who were here before me know him a little bit better than I do, but he's a great kid. We love his family. He's always around the rink. He's got his own stall in the locker room. I mean, he puts a smile on all of our faces whenever we see him, so it's great to have him and great to be able to celebrate his birthday with him."
After quickly unwrapping and assembling his present from the hockey team, a new Nerf gun, Buckley got to work, using sophomore Dylan Richard as a human target. The scene of the 8-year-old laughing and playing with 27 of his favorite people highlighted the importance of his bond with the team and of his journey to beating pediatric cancer.
"I look at it as relief because he's not going to the hospital every single month anymore," explained Denny Buckley, Colton's father. "You try to believe the doctors that he's cancer free, and it's not going to come back. When he was on treatment and in treatment, there was such a high risk.
"Anything can really be bad like a virus or any kind of illness because he had no immune system when he was on treatment. That was our biggest worry, and now he's back to pretty much himself again, being crazy like he is."
"It's more stress now, too," added Nicole Buckley. "You don't have that blanket, that cushion anymore. I mean, we still go to the doctors every month, but you don't have that treatment. You know, the chemotherapy keeps it away. Now that's all gone, and his whole body is basically starting over. It's relief, but it's stress as well."
The connection between the Buckley family and the hockey team is incredibly special to both parties. They are family now and will continue to be there for each other throughout each and every step of Colton's journey.
As the festivities wrapped up, Buckley's father asked him to name his favorite hockey team. The answer was simple and came to the birthday boy in a matter of seconds. Penn State.
"I honestly cannot even put it in words," said Denny Buckley of his family's relationship with the hockey team. "It means way too much to try and put it into words. They could have just looked at Colton as their THON kid and done things with him here and there, but they've been so much more than that.
"We consider them family and vice versa. When we come up here, we say we're coming up to see family. We feel at home when we're here, and he absolutely loves these guys. That in itself says everything. They're family to us."