Penn State Men’s Hockey’s 2022-23 Campaign Sets Foundation For Future Success

For a bit, Penn State was on the path to making history.

Faced with the daunting task of taking down Michigan in the NCAA Tournament Regional Final, the underdog Nittany Lions were giving the Wolverines what may have been their biggest challenge all season. 

After knocking on the door of scoring for nearly two scoreless periods, Connor MacEachern rose to the occasion and scored on a shot that Wolverine goaltender Erik Portillo deflected with one minute left in the second period. The crowd, which overwhelmingly consisted of Penn State fans, erupted into cheers. 

The scenes at the PPL Center in Allentown resembled that of a crowd about to watch its team pull off a stunning upset against one of college hockey’s biggest juggernauts. Penn State wasn’t showing signs of slowing down. Liam Souliere was having a tremendous game in goal. Every skater in front of him was playing with the utmost physicality and skill. Everything was going as well as it could’ve for the Nittany Lions.

But then, Michigan’s star forward, Adam Fantilli, tied the game in the third period during the Wolverines’ fourth power play opportunity of the night. Despite giving up a goal, the Nittany Lions pushed forward and kept playing their game.

The game went into sudden death overtime, and it all happened in the blink of an eye. Mackie Samoskevich took off with the puck, then ripped a shot past Souliere and into the goal.

A game that once seemed so promising ended in the cruelest, most heartbreaking way one could fathom. Just like that, Penn State’s season was over.

Shortly after the game had ended, Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky and veterans Paul DeNaples and MacEachern solemnly walked into the room that held the postgame press conference. The looks on their faces, combined with DeNaples breaking down while answering questions, made it difficult to watch. What made it even more emotional was that it was DeNaples’ last game ever wearing a Penn State uniform.

“I just hope I set an example off the ice,” DeNaples emotionally said. “They’re gonna recruit good guys. There’s gonna be good players coming in here, but it’s important to have a good team and good guys on the team, and a good culture, so I hope I left this place better than what it was.”

Although the result on the ice wasn’t the storybook ending that everyone had wanted, there is a silver lining. This group of seniors laid the foundation for a successful Penn State men’s hockey program with a winning culture… A program that someday could be celebrating the joys of reaching the Frozen Four and even winning it. 

These players experienced the highs of the 2019-20 season. Then, they dealt with the blows the program took when the end of the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But this group responded by getting up, coming together, and working tirelessly to improve the culture to where it is now.

“The most important thing is watching guys like that make the culture and making guys want to come and play here,” Gadowsky said. “If you don’t love the university, you’re not here for the right reasons.”

Although they never went to a Frozen Four, these seniors should be proud of the resiliency they showed when the team went through one of its most difficult stretches since becoming a Division I program. Their resiliency paid off by improving the culture, which has created a path to sustainable success for the program in the future because they left Penn State a better place to play college hockey than it was before they got here.

This gut-wrenching, heartbreaking playoff loss will continue to sting for a while, especially when the goal of reaching the Frozen Four was so agonizingly close.

However, that’s another reason for optimism. After an underachieving 2021-22 season, few expected Penn State to be a top-10 team this year, and it came just minutes away from reaching heights this young program has never seen before.

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About the Author

Nolan Wick

Nolan is a senior journalism major from Silver Spring, Maryland. He's an avid D.C sports fan and loves going to games in his free time. Nolan mainly writes about Penn State football, men's hockey, and baseball. You can follow him on Twitter @nolan_wick or email him at [email protected].

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