Evan Bell’s Journey To Penn State Hockey Debut Anything But Straightforward
Defenseman Evan Bell finally made his debut for Penn State men’s hockey Friday night.
Bell added a different dynamic to the Nittany Lions’ defensive core with his smooth skating, excellent puck-moving skills, and solid positioning in his own end of the ice as Penn State registered a hard-earned split against Minnesota at Mariucci Arena.
If it wasn’t for nearly a calendar year of hard work, however, Bell’s strong debut weekend for Penn State would’ve had to wait until October.
Evan Bell began the 2017-18 hockey season at Merrimack College. The Warriors didn’t get off to the best start, beginning the year with a six-game winless streak and 2-9-3 record at the start of December.
Bell saw the ice in just three of those first 14 games, but his fourth appearance in a Merrimack sweater was promising.
“They put him in the UNH game, finally, and he lit it up,” Robert Bell, Evan’s father, said. “He absolutely lit it up!”
Merrimack pulled off a road upset of then-No. 13 New Hampshire in no small part thanks to a two-assist night from Bell. He would go on to make one more appearance for the Warriors before ultimately deciding to return to the USHL’s Fargo Force for the second half of the season.
Bell was back in the junior ranks, but he had one eye on returning to college hockey. The shifty defenseman decided Hockey Valley was the place for him, and he verbally committed to the Nittany Lions in February. He joined Penn State with three years of NCAA eligibility remaining and 2019-20 being his most likely debut season.
However, Bell had other ideas.
“Put an obstacle in front of Evan Bell, and I’d guarantee he’s going to overcome it,” Robert Bell said.
As his father explained, Bell’s next obstacle was fulfilling the second part of his 4-2-4 transfer requirements while finishing the 2017-18 hockey season with the Fargo Force.
According to the 4-2-4 rule, student-athletes who decide to leave a four-year program must obtain a two-year degree in order to join another four-year program. Some of the credits from Bell’s first semester at Merrimack transferred over, but he had to complete two-thirds of a two-year degree by the start of the 2018-19 academic year if he wanted to play for Penn State this season.
This obstacle was much more daunting than most Bell has faced in his life, especially considering his hockey season ended in late May thanks to a Clark Cup championship run. But he embraced it by putting his head down and grinding away.
“Everybody we talked to — coach Gadowsky, [associate head] coach [Keith] Fisher, mainly — said, ‘Evan, do you realize what kind of an undertaking that is? It’s never been done before,'” Bell’s father said. “It was a tremendous amount of schoolwork in a very short period of time.
“It was an arduous process, to put it mildly. It was the whole summer. He swam in our swimming pool at best, but the rest was school, school, school.”
Bell’s father recalled seeing his son sit down in front of a computer at 8 a.m. and not leave until 1 or 2 a.m. as he chipped away at his two-year degree. That workload included music classes, which weren’t exactly relevant to the labor and employment relations major.
He might have needed every last possible day to complete it, but Evan Bell overcame this obstacle. Through sheer willpower and hard work, Bell was eligible to start his Penn State career during the second half of the 2018-19 season.
Head coach Guy Gadowsky didn’t hold back when he finally got the chance to utilize Evan Bell’s talents.
Bell was instantly thrust into a big role, skating on a defensive pair with alternate captain Kevin Kerr at 5-on-5 while quarterbacking Penn State’s top power play unit. The Nittany Lions picked up a huge 4-2 win Friday night before settling for a split on the series.
Before his debut, however, Bell spent the fall semester of this school year in Happy Valley. Cam Davidson, the Nittany Lions’ strength and conditioning coach, put Bell on a six-day-a-week workout program, and Bell responded with an excellent semester.
“I really give him credit, because he didn’t just pass time this semester,” Gadowsky said. “He really used it to improve everything he could. He would have practice, then he’d work out himself after practice, and then he’d do extra work in the weight room. I’m proud of him for that, and it paid off.”
The defenseman said his main goal of the first semester was to stay in shape and to be prepared for last weekend’s contests against Minnesota. As Gadowsky said, Bell’s hard work paid off — you’d be hard-pressed to find a player look as comfortable as he did in his first game after nearly eight months of classwork and workouts.
“I felt pretty good. It was definitely an adjustment, but I felt well-prepared,” Bell said. “It felt good to get out there.”
At 5’11” and 191 pounds, Bell might not be the biggest or scariest defenseman on the ice during games, and that isn’t necessarily his style. But based on the past year of his life in Fargo and Happy Valley, Penn State hockey fans can rest easy knowing Bell is one of the hardest-working players on the ice every night.
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