By Erin Neri, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Thursday afternoon, Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky and his Nittany Lions were eager to preview the 2017-18 campaign, meeting with members of the media on media day.
For the first season in program's history, Penn State will open the season ranked, slotted No. 10 in the USCHO.com preseason poll. Picked to finish fourth in the Big Ten poll, the Nittany Lions are also coming off a Big Ten Championship season that saw Penn State finish with a 25-12-2 overall record.
With just two hours a week on the ice at this point, Gadowsky noted that there's still much to figure out when it comes to this year's squad.
"I think the chemistry that we had last year hasn't been lost," Gadowsky said. "I think they're really good guys and I think they are working really well together so far. To really find out what has changed with chemistry on the ice, you have to play."
Come Sunday, Oct. 1, the Nittany Lions will host Ottawa in an international exhibition set for 3 p.m. in Pegula Ice Arena.
"Moving into Sunday, we just want to do the
right things, work on some things that we've worked on since we got here in August
and try to put us out on the right foot headed into Clarkson and St. Lawrence,"
sophomore forward Nate Sucese said. "I think obviously every team is a
preseason game for a reason and I think it will really tell us where we are at
headed into Clarkson."
Catch up on four things you need to know before heading to Pegula Ice Arena Sunday afternoon.
Senior forward James Robinson was voted as one of three team captains by his fellow teammates in the weeks leading up to this season. "Jimmy Pucks," as he's known, is accompanied by senior defenseman Erik Autio and junior center Chase Berger as the team's alternates
"It's just a huge honor and I'm extremely humbled," Robinson said. "You look at that dressing room and we have so many guys who could be wearing not only the 'C' but any kind of letter."
Robinson brings plenty of strong leadership experience to the role, wearing the 'A' last season as well as during his junior hockey career. Along with the rest of the team, Gadowsky and the staff are very excited to see the direction Robinson will take the team.
"He has the ultimate respect from everybody on the team," Gadowsky said. "He's perfect in that role."
Within the Big Ten
The Big Ten Conference has grown to become one of the most competitive conferences in college hockey, considering new additions in Notre Dame last season and Penn State's rapid rise in the national ranks. Combined with the high level of play Minnesota brings year in and year out, the Gophers are frequently among the top programs in the country, along with Wisconsin and Ohio State.
"This is by far the toughest head-to-toe league that Big Ten hockey has had," Gadowsky said. "The teams that come out of this league into the tournament are going to be extremely battle-tested."
The Nittany Lions worked toward improving many aspects of their game during the offseason, but above all, Gadowsky noted that the focus of those improvements were defensive.
"We have to be better defensively but also be much more consistent, and that sounds easy, but it's really hard," Gadowsky said. "If we are to have success, we can't always depend on Peyton Jones playing out of his mind for three games, we have to be much more consistent defensively."
With that absence of defenseman Vince Pedrie, following his departure signing with the New York Rangers in the offseason, Gadowsky noted that freshmen Cole Hults and Alex Stevens could be potentially prime options to step into a big roles.
"I've tried to teach the freshman this year that blocking shots goes a long way for the team," senior defenseman Trevor Hamilton said. "I think they've all bought into it and are committed to playing defense first."
Past but Not Forgotten
Last year's historic season ended in a heartbreaking 6-3 loss to top-ranked, Denver in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. The eye-opening experience put a lot in perspective for the team, but now serves as a valuable experience in terms of what it takes to get back to playing March hockey.
"It was unbelievable to play the best team in the country (Denver) and know what level we need to be at in order to get there," junior forward Chase Berger said. "Playing Big Ten teams is great, but it was an unbelievable experience to see the highest level."
Looking closer at that experience, for junior forward Andrew Sturtz, this year is all about building on the success."I think what we did last year, it was very special and now we have a lot of guys back who have been there," Sturtz said. "We've seen the NCAA Tournament, we've seen the Big Ten final. Now to get back there, we just have to remember what actually got us there. We weren't trying to be pretty, it wasn't cute plays, we were playing Penn State hockey and I think with the skill we have this year, if we play Penn State hockey we should be alright."