It was a historic afternoon for Penn State, as two of its finest picked up some very high honors from the Big Ten conference. First up, coach Guy Gadowsky earned Big Ten coach of the year (Penn State's first major conference award). The voters consisted of both coaches and media members.
Although they were expected to improve on their work from last season, not many saw Penn State's 2014/2015 season coming. The Nittany Lions finished the season with a record of 18-14-4 (10-9-1 in the B1G), and were in contention for a number one seed in the Big Ten Tournament up until the final weekend. The team ended up in fourth place in the B1G, with 31 points (behind Minnesota, Michigan State and Michigan). This extremely successful season also included plenty of marque performances and wins. An impressive showing in the Brice Alaska Goal Rush started the season off right, as the Lions took a point home from the outer reaches of the United States. The Lions improbably took down perennial powerhouse UMass-Lowell early in the season, just before taking down Michigan yet again for what would be the first of three victories on the season against the Wolverines. The team wasn't able to steal a win from Minnesota in the season's final series, but they did defeat the ranked Gophers earlier in the year. Finally, despite a down season from the Badgers, it was still an impressive feat for Penn State to pull of a season sweep of Wisconsin. Needless to say, it has been a wildly successful campaign for Gadowsky's squad, that found themselves ranked as highly as #19 at one point.
When the regular season came to a close, Penn State had more than twice the number of victories that they did last season, and currently find themselves awaiting a first round Big Ten Tournament matchup with the Ohio State Buckeyes. Gadowsky has built a team that can compete on a national level in just three short seasons, and it's for that reason that he was honored with this prestigious award.
Casey Bailey also will step onto the ice in Detroit with a new sense of achievement, having been named to the All-Big Ten first team. Bailey was one of the most prolific goal scorers in the country this season, finding the back of the net 22 times. He ended the regular season tied for fourth in the country in goals. He also racked up 40 points overall, becoming Penn State's first to accomplish the feat. He is the all-time leader in Nittany Lion hockey history with 80 points.
Bailey was also very much in the running to be one of the ten finalists for the Hobey Baker Award all season long, and will surely be named a finalist soon. He won't win the award, but getting his name and Penn State's name mentioned for such a historic award is great for him and for the program.
Of course, Casey would probably be upset if we didn't mention his line-mates that helped set up him for all of his many goals this season. Bailey played nearly the entire season alongside the duo of Taylor Holstrom and David Goodwin. Unfortunately, Holstrom was injured and will miss the rest of the season. Despite that, he ended the regular season tied for 10th in assists in the country. There would be no superstar goal scorers if not for the guys next to them on the ice, and Bailey is no exception. So when you're applauding Casey's efforts, be sure to applaud Holstrom and Goodwin (and new line-mate, Tommy Olczyk)'s as well.
Bailey was joined on the first team all Big Ten by Zach Hyman, Dylan Larkin and Zach Werenski of Michigan, Mike Reilly of Minnesota and Jake Hildebrand of Michigan State.
Also earning recognition from the Big Ten this season, was freshman forward Scott Conway who was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team. Conway has a bright future ahead of him, especially if he keep scoring goals like this.
Honorable mentions for the all-Big Ten first and second teams included Goodwin, Holstrom, Nate Jensen, Luke Juha, Patrick Koudys and PJ Musico (only three of the honorable mentions were non-Penn Staters).
It was an impressive and award-winning regular season for the Nittany Lions in just their third season as a division one program. It all continues this Thursday as they take on the Buckeyes in Detroit in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. We'll have more coverage as game day approaches. And once again, congratulations to Gadowsky, Bailey and everyone else. Go State!