Looking Back At Penn State Hockey’s Electric Season
It had to end sometime. This season was a historic one for Penn State men’s hockey, and just about every positive record was broken in its third season at the Division I level. From its three once-unproven freshman to its highlight-reel goals and a soon-to-be NHL player, let’s take a look back at this year in hockey.
Over the course of its 18-14-4 season, Penn State saw lots of highs as well as some lows. It all started on Oct. 10 when it tied UConn and followed it up by scoring a record-breaking seven goals in the second game of the weekend series. The next weekend, Penn State earned a tie and a loss in the Brice Alaska Goal Rush before coming home and destroying Holy Cross twice in one weekend. After the following weekend, when it swept Bentley, Penn State went on a two-month road trip, not playing any games in Hockey Valley from Oct. 31 to Jan. 9.
Once the Nittany Lions were finally reunited with Pegula Ice Arena, good news starting piling on. The program earned its first-ever Hobey Baker nominees when Casey Bailey and Taylor Holstrom were honored with the chance to win the prestigious award. Soon after, Penn State began its Big Ten schedule for good, and picked up more national recognition along the way – it was ranked twice in the USCHO Poll, and also found itself atop the Big Ten standings at different points throughout the year.
Unfortunately, the fairytale ending wasn’t to be for the young Penn State program. Although it was in the running for a first-round bye up until the last weekend of the regular season, it earned the Big Ten Tournament’s fourth-seed and had to play Ohio State in the first round – a team that it struggled against all year. The Lions suffered a first-round exit courtesy of the Buckeyes and left Joe Louis Arena with nothing to show for their efforts.
Good news came during the following week, though. Four more “firsts” happened to the program – head coach Guy Gadowsky was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year, Bailey was named to the conference’s First Team, Scott Conway was named to the Freshman Team, and to top it all off, Bailey signed a contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs to become the program’s first-ever NHL signee.
“We’re very happy for Casey, it’s great for him,” Gadowsky said at Tuesday’s year-end press conference. “Really proud of him. He’s really elevated his work ethic and he really deserves it. Casey’s proven you can come to Penn State and develop quite quickly into someone that’s attractive to NHL teams.”
He then shifted to speak about his incoming recruits: “Every season is really important, but because we’re bringing in a lot more numbers next year, we’re going to have to rely upon fewer number of returnees to be ready to go. Everybody we have coming back better be ready to go from the start.”
“[The recruits] that signed up to come on know that they’ll be relied upon,” he said. “If they’re going to take full advantage of the opportunities that’ve been given to them, they know that they’re going have to come in in very good shape because they are gonna get the opportunity to contribute at a high level.”
Although losing Bailey to the NHL hurts the team short-term, Gadowsky knows that it will certainly help in the long run.
“With Casey [leaving college early], in terms of being an attractive program, [our] recruiting pitch is that we are capable this quickly of developing players that are going to warrant NHL attention,” Gadowsky said.
Without a doubt, Penn State’s season should be considered a success on and off paper. Throughout the season, we’ve taken a look at the team’s statistics a few times (specifically, here, here, here, here, and here), but now that it’s over, let’s take a gander at how the stats ended up. Here are some key numbers, courtesy of Penn State Athletics.
Season Recap, By the Numbers
Goals For: 119
Goals Against: 113
Powerplay: 21.9 percent
Penalty Kill: 80.6 percent
It’s not hard to figure out where the team’s problem was this season. If only the Roar Zone could have traveled with the team, then maybe that away record would have been a bit better. Otherwise, as far as what a third-year Division I program should look like, these numbers are incredible. Gadowsky would like to have seen his team outscore opponents by more and he’d like to see higher percentages on the powerplay and penalty kill, but at the end of the day, this team exceeded all of its expectations.
Goals: Bailey (22), Goodwin (15), Scheid (14)
Assists: Holstrom (26), Goodwin (19), Bailey (18)
Points: Bailey (40), Goodwin (34), Holstrom (33)
Plus/minus: Goodwin (13), Bailey (11), Holstrom (10)
Shots on goal: Bailey (211), Loik (120), Conway (108)
SV%: McAdam (.910), Musico (.909), Skoff (.907)
GAA: Skoff (2.81), Musico (3.05), McAdam (3.13)
Talk about parity. Penn State’s dominant top line featured three players with vastly different strengths, and that shows on the stat sheet. The team’s plus/minus as a whole was substantially better than last season, too. David Glen was the only positive player for the 8-26-2 squad a year ago, but this season, Penn State boasts eight plus players.
In net, Gadowsky juggled three goalies for most of the season, and the reason for that is obvious as well. They all play similarly, and when the numbers conflict with each other the way that they do, there’s no clear starter in the pack. With Musico graduating, the goaltending battle next season will be between just Skoff and McAdam, and as Gadowsky explained at his press conference, both will be given the opportunity to succeed. The net will be protected by two capable goalies, but it’ll be sad to see the a veteran netminder leave, because…
This Senior Class Really Was That Good
This class came to Penn State and played in Greenberg Ice Pavilion against teams like Fredonia State, Neumann, and Alabama Huntsville. Pegula Ice Arena was just a promise, not yet a building, and the group knew that once Penn State made the jump to Division I and Big Ten play, it was supposed to have a hard time scoring, let alone winning. Though it wasn’t a very attractive program, these seven young men committed, stuck around, and built the program themselves.
Who Will Replace Them?
Losing its top-line center (Holstrom) to graduation and its top-line right winger (Bailey) to the NHL isn’t the best news, but there are other players ready to take their games to the next level alongside soon-to-be junior David Goodwin. Max Gardiner and Jacob Friedman, the other two senior forwards, typically spent their time on the bottom two lines. With four offensive freshmen joining the team next year and players like Scott Conway, David Glen, James Robinson, Dylan Richard, and Tommy Olczyk set for even better seasons, the forward corps should still remain solid.
On the back-end, Penn State is losing some key contributors. While Peter Sweetland was often in and out of the lineup, captain Patrick Koudys and alternate captain Nate Jensen were two of the team’s best defenders. Kevin Kerr, the team’s lone incoming defenseman, will be counted on to step up immediately alongside players like Erik Autio, Luke Juha, and Mike Williamson.
What’s Next For Penn State Hockey?
Losing Bailey and Koudys hurts, but this is a good young team with great recruits, and Pegula Ice Arena and the Roar Zone will always be electric. With Gadowsky announcing that there shouldn’t be any major offseason injuries to worry about (unlike last year), the team will be bigger and better entering its fourth year. Now that the world knows that Penn State can put up winning seasons and develop players into NHL-caliber prospects, it’s safe to say that the Nittany Lions are legit. October needs to get here faster.