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Oct. 8, 2012
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach Guy Gadowsky and members of the Penn State men's hockey team met with the media Monday, Oct. 8. The Nittany Lions will open their first NCAA season at home Friday, Oct. 12 against American International College.
Basically I just wanted to say thank you very much for coming. Obviously it's a very exciting time right now. There's been a lot of work that has gone into getting us to this point, a lot that you don't expect, and there's a lot of work still to be done. But, all in all, it's so exciting. I know the student-athletes are pumped. We're pumped. All the people that have put so much time and effort into organizing everything to move forward to the transition to D-I, they're all pumped. So it's just an exciting time.
Q: What's been the hardest part of the transition?
A: You know, it's a lot of fun to do this with a team. That's all fun. The most challenging part is the things that you don't really realize from behind the scenes in terms of what it takes in terms of being NCAA compliant. What it takes to move for event management. What it takes for everything that is new that did not happen before. It is very difficult to hit the ground running. There are a lot of moving parts. Fortunately, there are a lot of great people at Penn State in the athletic department who are dealing with a lot of that. It is a lot of work. That is the most challenging part. From a team standpoint it is a lot of fun. We know it will be a huge step up. We understand that in terms of the speed and strength of the athletes and even more the speed of the game, the thinking and it is something we will have to work on every day at practice. It is going to be a challenge as we have only had one practice. It will be a huge challenge for us the entire year.
Q: Can you talk about the process of selecting players from last year's team?
A: Well, last year was basically a year-long tryout for those who wanted to be with us when we were D-I. I give all of them so much credit. There are many upperclassmen who came to Penn State because it is Penn State and to play club hockey, but now they get to play Division I. They worked so hard all year. They worked so hard all summer. There are 16 players from last year's team who are on this year's team. To find the other 11, it was a lot of work. (Assistant coaches) Keith Fisher and Matt Lindsay have been on the road nearly constantly to find the best student-athletes that fit Penn State and fit our hockey program. We wanted guys with high hockey IQs who can think, get up the ice and score goals.
Q: What type of student-athlete do you look for?
A: First of all, we want really good people. I was very impressed with the quality of our locker room that we had last year and very fortunate to have great quality in some of the past programs that I have been in, and that is very important to our staff. So No. 1, you want to find quality individuals. We want guys who understand what Penn State is all about. We want guys that appreciate an excellent education. We want players that really appreciate the passion of the student body and really want to be a part of something special. We don't want someone who just wants to arrive somewhere. The situation we are in, it is important to have people who are really hungry to build that foundation and have pride in doing so. Those are the kind of people we look for. As far as hockey, it is very important that we have high hockey IQ. We tend to be a very creative team. We do not really put a leash on the players. We let them go. If you are going to play that way, you have to have smart hockey players.
Q: Coach, you have a very unique schedule this year with a lot different NCAA teams and club teams, can you talk about what you expect on the ice?
A: We will find out. I have never been a part of this and it is new for all of us. It is very exciting; both ends of that are very exciting. With the high-end Division I teams, we are playing Union, which made it to the frozen four last year. We are going to Michigan State. We are going to Wisconsin. Those are the top of the food chain. For us to do that in our very first year is very daunting. We understand fully how good those programs are and how difficult they are to play, but it is a great opportunity for us to find out where we are at right now. I think it is a great schedule and I am very happy with what was put together. I think it is perfect for where we are right now.
Q: How has it been trying to schedule games against other teams?
A: The reception we got was excellent. There are a lot of teams that want to play Penn State. There are also a lot of teams that understand the situation we are in and want to be a part of this year, which is a transition year to the Big Ten. Hockey is a great fraternity. There are a lot of great coaches that want to help you out and if they have the opportunity to play you, they will do it. They want to help you.
Q: Are you excited to join the Big Ten (in 2013-14)?
A: Sure I am. It is the first time there will be a Big Ten conference. The teams in this conference have dominated in their respective conferences. They have dominated on a national level. I played in the WCHA; I have coached in the CCHA. I know very well how good these programs are and how much pride and tradition they have. The success, of not only their programs, but also the alumni at the National Hockey League level, I have all the respect in the world for. We are honored to be a part of them. That is a huge draw to come to Penn State, not only for the staff but also for student-athletes. It will be the best college conference in the nation and to be a part of it is an honor. We understand how tough it is, but that is why you come to Penn State, to compete against the best.
Q: Can you talk about the effect Pegula Ice Arena will have on youth hockey?
A: I think it is going to have a tremendous effect. If you talk to Mr. Pegula that was one of his vision points of building the building that he wants. It is to encourage and be a catalyst of youth hockey in this area and all of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is getting better and better. We are giving birth to some great hockey players. We just need a lot more of them. I think the Pegula Ice Arena is going to be the most important factor that happens to youth hockey in this area. If you can envision a decade down the road, I foresee a time when we have passionate Pennsylvania kids who are great players on a national level, who grew up playing in Pegula Ice Arena, whether it be kids from the area or from all over Pennsylvania, playing in tournaments at Pegula.
Q: Can you talk about Tommy Olczyk and the leadership he brings?
A: He is a 4.0 student. He takes academics very seriously and he is very intelligent. Besides that, the way he represents himself, not only to the coaching staff and team, but himself in general in public is excellent. I think he is a tremendous representative of the team. On the ice, he is a talented guy, he shoots the puck very well and furthermore, he does a lot of little things that do not really get noticed. He has a great work ethic. When you ask the qualities we saw, we actually put a vote to the team. What players had the highest levels of work ethic and commitment, what players represented themselves the best, what players were not only committed to Penn State University but also the hockey program and academics. For all of them, his name was up there at the top of the list. We agree with it as a coaching staff, but we have to give credit for choosing him as captain to the team.
Q: You have captains and assistant captains in every class but freshman. What can you speak on about leadership throughout the depth of the roster?
A: That is a good point. That was not by design and that is an interesting point. I think we are very fortunate with the quality of the locker room as I have said before. I give credit to the seniors last year and the juniors last year who are seniors now the credit for that. I think it is important. We hope to have a whole locker room of leaders. You do not need a letter on your chest to be a leader and we expect that everybody has that attitude. We certainly expect everyone to be a leader. Right now, they have a lot of pride in this program and a lot of pride in Penn State University. Hopefully, we really will have a whole locker room of leaders.
Q: Going back to Tommy Olczyk and his experience with the Carolina Hurricanes this summer. Did that really change him?
A: Any time you can be in that environment against the very best in the world, I think it is obviously a positive experience. I don't think that that had a lot to do with his maturation because he was already a very mature kid when he got here. During recruiting, whenever we run into Sioux City, where he played, they always make a point to come up to me to not only ask about him but also to tell a story about what a tremendous person he is. He was well on his way. Certainly, that experience was a tremendous one but I think the players on this team who selected him, I don't think they saw that. They might have seen a little bit of added maturity but he was well on his way before that.
Q: Talk about the midnight open practice.
A: Yes, it was such a great experience and great to see. We didn't know what to expect. We had our first practice at 12:01 a.m. Friday night, which was our first opportunity to practice. We invited people out to watch it and had no idea what to expect - if we were going to get three people out to watch it our 53 people out. I think we ended up with over 500 people watching practice. I thought it was tremendous. I think the players were surprised. I don't think they expected that huge turnout. This is the first time we've ever done anything like that. I just thought it was fantastic. The atmosphere and the questions by the student body - they love hockey, it was very apparent. I think every one of us that was on the ice had the experience of students coming up and just telling us how excited they were and that they can't wait for the season to start. It was tremendous and from a staff standpoint, what a great thing to see. I just love Penn State. The student body here is the best in the world.
Q: Does it take a special kind of player to want to be part of a program's foundation?
A: Yes, of course. As I mentioned earlier, you asked what was important in a recruit. No. 1, when you're in the situation that we're in, you want people that are hungry to be a part of that foundation and want the pride to look back years down the road and say, "I was a part of that." To answer your question about Tommy Olczyk, I'll never forget his recruiting visit. When he came in, he spoke about that. He made a point to say, "I can't wait, 10-15 years down the road to look back at what we accomplished." He has a real pride in building that and a commitment to that. So, yes, there are players that just want to go somewhere that's already established and go to some place's destination where they've already arrived. We want to find the players like Tommy Olczyk that want to come here and are really hungry to build something.
Q: Have there been a lot of challenges?
A: There are a lot of things that you don't see behind the scenes that, believe me, there are so many moving parts and takes so much work. Obviously we are very fortunate with our staff, (associate athletic director) Joe Batista and (director of hockey operations) Bill Downey are in a constant mold of working, in terms of that area. There are a lot of challenges behind the scenes to get this going, for sure. As a team standpoint, I think when you talk about building the foundation it's really important that you just know it's something that takes constant attention. It's a process and you really have to have a clear vision of that process from starting out and where you want to be along the line. It's like a garden - you can't ignore it. That's a challenge in every team, but for someone that's starting off, especially jumping in to what we're going to jump into in the Big Ten. It's something that we have to accelerate and pay attention to all the time. That's a challenge that the whole staff is committed to.
Q: Talk about only having one week between your first practice and game.
A: It's interesting. It's not unusual in college hockey. Certainly, I think it's not ideal just to have one week and jump right into our first Division I games. I think the guys have been working very hard off the ice with our strength coach and they're allowed to skate on their own; we're allowed to condition the athletes. We take advantage of every minute we can. But certainly, it's a huge challenge with so many new players to address systems and objectives with only one week to go. Fortunately, we're all sort of in the same boat. Obviously the teams that have an established system are at an advantage over us right now. We're just going to do the best we can and improve every day.
Q: What are you expectations this season?
A: That remains to be seen because we haven't played a game yet. But I did look back. I know that at Princeton the first year, we ended up playing American International as well. I think we won, 4-2, and three of the goals were scored by two guys who ended up playing in the NHL. It's going to be interesting to look at what happened to see where we're at. Obviously there are a lot of differences, but it'll be interesting for our staff to look back and see where we're going. We do have a vision in terms of creativity, and we want to play great hockey that the fans here are going to love to watch. In that sense I'm very excited about it. We've got guys who you're really going to enjoy watching and some of them are in very big frames as well. You take Max Gardiner, who's a third-round NHL draft choice to the St. Louis Blues, who has tremendous skill. He's got a lot of offensive creativity, but he's doing it in a 6-3 package. He's fun to watch. You've talked about some of the challenges. Some of the challenges right now for the coaching staff, I think, is to keep our mind on what we're trying to accomplish in practice and not get caught in enjoying watching some of these guys. I think it's an exciting team right now. I look forward to seeing the identity that we're hoping they get. Although you have a direction for them to go, each team and every year has their own little identities that come out. We're all very curious to see what that's going to be.
Q: Will you be judging your team's performance in wins and losses?
A: No, we will not be judging our success and our progress through wins and losses. Certainly wins and losses are going to be a by-product of the job we do in terms of how we do with the foundation. We're going to judge it in terms of how quickly and consistently we all get on the same page. We're going to be judged on how we do in the areas that we control. Some of those are statistical; some of those are just in terms of the team coming together in not only our identity and how consistent we are with that but how consistent we are in areas that we talk about as a team. We look at that every day. It's not just going to be a matter of how many wins and how many losses. I tell you what, as a team that it's their first year in the NCAA Division I, to play teams like Michigan State and Wisconsin - to say that you didn't have statistical success... you could have great success and achieve great strides that might not show up on the score but are going to be huge for the success that we have years down the road.