Gadowsky’s Guys Are Back: 2015-16 Men’s Hockey Season Preview
Penn State hockey is finally back, opening its regular season Saturday night in Buffalo at Canisius. After an 18-15-4 season last year, hopes are high for Guy Gadowsky’s team. The roster saw lots of turnover, losing its best players ever but bringing in its best recruiting class. Time will tell how that reflects on the ice, but for now, here’s our full 2015-16 men’s hockey season preview.
Most of Penn State’s best players ever left the program at the end of last season. The Nittany Lions haven’t seen a significant number of hockey players in their short history, however, so after this season it’s completely possible that multiple new names thrust themselves into the discussion to being Penn State’s best ever. That being said, here are some key contributors that Guy Gadowsky will have to replace.
- Casey Bailey, RW, Toronto Marlies — You know this guy. Penn State’s all-time leader in goals and points left after his junior season to become the first professional hockey player from Hockey Valley, and the first Penn Stater to score an NHL goal. He was cut from the Maple Leafs’ training camp roster, and is expected to play for their AHL affiliate, at least to start this year.
- Taylor Holstrom, C — The second highest scorer in Penn State history is also gone. Formerly centering Bailey’s line, the pair’s chemistry rocketed Holstrom to Penn State hockey greatness.
- Scott Conway, F, Penticton Vees — Dismissed for off-ice issues, the former freshman phenom is an alternate captain this year for the BCHL’s Penticton Vees.
- Patrick Koudys, D, Indy Fuel — Penn State’s captain from last year and star defenseman was drafted by the Washington Capitals a few years back, but signed his first professional contract with the ECHL’s Indy Fuel, a minor league affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks.
- P.J. Musico, G, Greenville Swamp Rabbits — Musico was on the Swamp Rabbits’ training camp squad, trying out to play in the same league as Koudys.
- Max Gardiner, Jacob Friedman, Nate Jensen, Peter Sweetland — Four other seniors left the team last year, two forwards and two defensemen leaving gaps in the upcoming lineup.
We broke down the incoming freshmen in the first of our positional previews, and the class looks like the best in Penn State’s short Division I history. Six of the eight players saw ice time in the team’s exhibition game against Windsor, while Derian Hamilton and Chris Funkey sat out. Funkey’s absence wasn’t a surprise, but Hamilton’s was. All four forwards played (Andy Sturtz, Chase Berger, Alec Marsh, and Matt Mendelson), but none registered a point, and they were featured all throughout the lineup. Two defensemen suited up (Kevin Kerr and Vince Pedrie), and while Kerr received praised from Gadowsky after the game (“If you look at how Kevin Kerr sees the game, he generates so many offensive chances”), it was Pedrie who impressed on the stat sheet with two assists in his debut. Hamilton is heralded as the expected highest scorer of the defensive corps, but Gadowsky gave him the day off, and Funkey is widely recognized as the team’s third goaltender, so barring injury, he won’t see much time this year at all.
One freshman forward played on each line against Windsor, and Kerr and Pedrie played on the team’s top two pairings.
Forwards Need To Step Up, But They’re More Than Ready
There was no chance Bailey would stay for his senior year with the caliber of season that he had and the opportunities in front of him. But, the team almost definitely was counting on Conway’s offense sticking around. At the preseason Media Day, Gadowsky announced that star forward Eric Scheid will miss the season’s first six weeks. Now, without three of its potential flashiest forwards, other players will need to transition to the spotlight as fast and as seamlessly as possible.
Fortunately, as we explained in our forward positional preview, there is no shortage of players ready for an increased role. The only returning piece of last year’s top line, and the leading returning scorer in the Big Ten, David Goodwin, impressed early with a goal and an assist against Windsor. New captain David Glen had two goals and an assist, centering the top line. Dylan Richard, Tommy Olczyk, and Curtis Loik are some players who have shown flashes of scoring in the past, and it will be exciting to see who steps up — even if it’s only a handful of players, the team’s next star could come from a vast array of players, and that’s something worth looking forward to.
Sophomore James Robinson is another player who could impress after a low scoring last year.
Defense Replaces Sturdy Individuals With Speedy Depth
If you’re one of those hockey fans who claims to love watching low scoring displays of defense and goaltending, 1) stop lying and 2) Penn State hockey is not, and won’t be, for you. Koudys and Jensen were reliable minute-eaters last year, but they’re gone, and three freshmen who were known for scoring in junior hockey are on the team. They’re bolstering alternate captain Luke Juha (already the highest scoring defenseman in Penn State history) and the team’s reigning Freshman of the Year, Erik Autio. Sure, as we outlined in our next positional preview, guys like David Thompson, Connor Varley, and Mike Williamson are more than reliable, but Gadowsky openly admits he likes his blue-liners to jump up on the play. That’s the system he encourages, and those are the players he recruits. Casual fans will quickly love Hamilton, Kerr, and Pedrie, while the more perceptive fans will realize that they might hang their goalies out to dry too often for comfort. Either way, don’t expect a lot of 1-0 scores this year.
With Koudys’ departure, is Luke Juha the team’s new No. 1 defender?
Somewhere On This Roster, There Is A Great Goalie
…but we might never see him. Long-tenured goalies Matt Skoff and Eamon McAdam have been the go-to guys for years now, both have shown flashes of greatness and stolen games, but both have also thrown games away and are completely prone to breakdowns. They’re older now and (again) spent parts of their summers at NHL prospect camps, so maybe this is the year one of them stands between the pipes and actually stays there.
For new followers of the team, here’s how last season essentially played out: Matt Skoff was the starter at the beginning of the season, played well for a few weeks, then had a bad game and McAdam came in in relief. He upset No. 4 UMass-Lowell, then was the starter himself for a few weeks before consecutive implosions. Skoff was given more chances, faltered, then McAdam followed suit. Finally, Gadowsky let third-string P.J. Musico take a run at starting, and he ended up putting up the best statistics of the three. Eventually, he slowed down too, and the season ended with McAdam getting the call in the Big Ten Tournament and losing in the first round to Ohio State.
Here’s hoping someone claims the job and keeps it, and gives the team the reliable goalie it didn’t have last year. Hey, maybe junior hockey superstar Chris Funkey will step up and play the majority of games. That doesn’t seem likely, but it’s hard to tell with this group.
A year before joining the Big Ten, Skoff was named team MVP. Can he come back this year against improved opposition?
An Impressive Schedule Could Propel Penn State Into National Contention
Not only does the Big Ten slate feature three high-profile teams in Minnesota, Michigan, and Michigan State, Penn State’s non-conference schedule is as solid as ever. Last year, the team started off by playing teams like Holy Cross and Bentley, and promptly destroying them. This year starts with a one-game series at Canisius, then a home-opening series against Notre Dame. Later in the year, Penn State will participate in the annual College Hockey Faceoff in Philadelphia and the Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh. Penn State will play Vermont, Robert Morris, and either Clarkson or UMass-Lowell. It’s not unreasonable to assume that those teams will be ranked when Penn State faces them — and this season, maybe the Nittany Lions will be too.
Penn State also plays in four NHL arenas — the Wells Fargo Center and the CONSOL Energy Center when it visits Philly and Pittsburgh, Madison Square Garden when it plays in the Hockey-Hoops Double-Header in late January, and the Xcel Energy Center when it plays in the Big Ten Tournament (every team in the conference qualifies).
So, What Can We Expect?
It’s hard to say that this team will improve upon last year’s record with the lost talent, young roster, and tough schedule. Our staff tried its hand at predicting the team’s record, and rather optimistically too, but just because the team more than doubled its wins from two seasons ago doesn’t mean that that’s par for the course. (Personally, I’m expecting one or two wins above a .500 record with a few overtime losses and ties, and certainly not 20 wins.)
What matters most to you, the fan, is that the Roar Zone will still be the best student section in the country and Pegula Ice Arena will be the best environment in college hockey. After opening the regular season at Canisius, the Nittany Lions play eight of their next nine games at home. Win or lose, get to some games. It’ll be worth it.
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