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[Column] Penn State Hockey Became Elite This Season And It’s Just The Beginning

Want the truth? As the minutes waned in the second period and it became clear that Penn State hockey’s season would likely end tonight, I thought I’d be crushed.

First, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Pegula. Then, the thought of the season ending in the Big Ten Tournament seemed devastating in real time. I imagined my final period on the Penn State hockey beat would be the same dreadful fight against time’s inevitability.

I was wrong.

You can’t look at Penn State’s 2016-17 season as anything other than a massive success. It featured firsts like the team’s No. 1 ranking, Big Ten title, NCAA Tournament berth, and round one win

More than that, though, it was about silencing the doubters and making a statement. It was “Andy Valley, and “can’t score if you pass.” It was a group of seniors who believed in Penn State when Pegula was just a blueprint and the elite freshman class that will only improve from here. There was Denis Smirnov skill and Alec Marsh grit. There was pizza and laughing in locker room situations that would’ve been tense for any other team. It wasn’t always perfect, but it didn’t need to be. And, of course, you could bank on a high shot count most nights.

This doesn’t feel like an end — it’s the beginning of Penn State’s ride to powerhouse college hockey status. Red Berenson and Rick Bennett said so themselves.

While the Nittany Lions’ simple game has preserved, this season saw development in other aspects for the first time. Now, Penn State has a decisive starting goalie who proved elite through two high-stake double overtimes. Defense has never been this team’s strong suit, but flashes of genius appeared. Erik Autio’s ice-awareness, huge plays from offensive-minded first-team Vince Pedrie, momentum-shifting blocks from Trevor Hamilton, and the emergence of Kris Myllari are all reasons why I refuse to get upset. You’ll see all these things on a more consistent basis next year.

Consistency was the team’s main issue throughout the season, and that’s actually good for the future. A young team with 11 freshmen and eight sophomores has an entire off-season to fine tune, grow into itself, and establish more chemistry.

“I’m sure in time the seniors will look back on this season with a lot of fondness,” Coach Guy Gadowsky said next to a visibly emotional Ricky DeRosa.

They better — and so should Gadowsky. 20 years from now, they’ll look back on this season as the one that changed Penn State hockey. These guys and all the suits and ties behind them clawed their way up from unranked to national prominence. This was the year the “maybe” turned into “yes. This story started in Greenberg Ice Pavilion, developed in Pegula Ice Arena, and advances tonight in U.S. Bank Arena.

“The last game of the year is always tough. But this year — I’m not sure they could’ve imagined something so special,” Gadowsky put it simply. “It has been magical. We will remember this team forever.”

Covering Penn State hockey made me feel like I was in on the world’s best-kept secret. Often in sports, you suspend reality for a few hours and pretend the people on the ice have integrity off it. You want to believe you’re rooting for the “good guys”; you want to believe there’s some purpose behind all of this. I’ll let you in on my favorite part of this secret, and it’s something I’m sure of: These are the good guys.

For the last time, thank you for following along with me. I don’t know where this life will take me, but a part of me will always be unprofessionally cheering in the Pegula press box.

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About the Author

Sara Civian

Sara Civian is one of Onward State's three ridiculously good looking managing editors, a hockey writer at heart, and an Oxford comma Stan. She's a senior majoring in journalism, minoring in history, and living at Bill Pickle's Tap Room. Her favorite pastimes are telling people she's from Boston, watching the Bruins, and meticulously dissecting the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album. She's seen Third Eye Blind live 14 times. If you really hate yourself, you can follow her at @SaraCivian or email her at [email protected].

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