clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Penn State Hockey Recruiting: Success in Spite of Struggles

With a thriving hockey team on the ice, how is Penn State doing on the recruiting trail?

Thanks to Casey Bailey, the Nittany Lions are gaining a leg up on the hockey recruiting trail.
Thanks to Casey Bailey, the Nittany Lions are gaining a leg up on the hockey recruiting trail.
Abelimages/Getty Images

While hockey in Happy Valley has become a successful staple in the Penn State sports community, it's easy to forget that the program itself is still quite new. Penn State got their first wins, first goals, and first upsets out of the way seasons ago, but the newness of the organization still lingers in one key area: recruitment.

Recruiting is the backbone of any sports program, and the lifeblood of the college market. Every four years, college teams in every sport across the country turn over their players for a class of new recruits. It's a system unlike any other, and one that takes time and effort to work properly in a new program.

Now four years out from their move to Division I hockey, Penn State has started to develop the type of positive reputation that leads to recruitment success.

"When we came here, when we knew what hockey was at Penn State, we didn't have a program, we didn't have a rink. We didn't develop any guys from the NHL, we didn't have any background with that," assistant coach Keith Fisher said to Black Shoe Diaries in a recent exclusive interview. "Penn State's an unbelievable school, so it has changed a lot just because there was no Penn State [division 1] hockey six years ago. Now, it's a reality for kids to play hockey at Penn State and know that we're on the map with people."

One of the biggest factors in getting Penn State on the map with recruits has been former Nittany Lion and current Toronto Maple Leaf Casey Bailey. The forward had tremendous success with Penn State in his final year with the program, posting 40 points in 37 games and gaining national attention as a Nittany Lion hopeful for the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey's top honor in the NCAA. While Penn State ultimately fell short in the Big Ten Hockey Tournament in March and Bailey lost out on the Hobey Baker to the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft in Jack Eichel, the former Lion's story of signing with the Maple Leafs has done a lot more for Hockey Valley than just being their first NHL signee.

"Kids today want to play in the NHL, they want to move on and play pro hockey. You get an unbelievable degree from Penn State, but also it's a reality playing in the National Hockey League," Fisher said. "That's a big part of the recruiting process, is saying how many guys you've developed for the NHL and for professional hockey. For anyone to be the first one and have success the way [Bailey] did in his last 10 games with Toronto shows that we're on the right track with the development process here at Penn State. Coming to Penn State, you will be able to move onto the National Hockey League.

"Coming to Penn State, you will be able to move onto the National Hockey League."-Keith Fisher, assistant head coach

"If [the recruits] come in and do the work that they're expected and come and do the right things, they're going to have an opportunity to play in the National Hockey League. That's what kids want and now they can see it's a reality here so it's a big stepping-stone."

With Bailey having departed for the NHL and the losses of stars Taylor Holstrom to graduation and Scott Conway to dismissal, Penn State's offense was in need of some help for the upcoming season. Thankfully, January 2014 recruit -- and potentially Penn State's best get since Bailey -- Andrew Sturtz was recently added to the Nittany Lion roster for the impending hockey year. A right winger for the Carleton Place Canadians in the Central Canada Hockey League, Sturtz is the type of player that will make an impact the second he graces the ice. In two years with the Canadians, Sturtz totaled 176 points in 116 games, posting 81 goals and averaging over a point and a half per game.

"[Sturtz] is a proven goal scorer," Fisher said. "The thing you like about Andrew is he’s a winner. He’s won a lot of hockey games at Carleton Place. The combination of those two things makes him real attractive to us and should fit nicely into our lineup here.

"He played in the [RBC] National Championship Game up in Canada two years in a row so he’s won a lot of hockey games and he’s proven that he can score against the best competition in Canada year in and year out."

Even with the addition of an extremely talented recruit to the roster for the upcoming season, Penn State is still green when it comes to nailing down commitments from not just all over the world, but inside their own state as well.

"It's going to take time to beat the Minnesotas," Fisher said. "The hard part is we don't have the local talent here in Pennsylvania like they do in a spot like Minnesota."

It's not just the slimmer pickings of talent in the state that are a challenge for the Nittany Lions either. Penn State is also fighting against history, and their lack of it.

"We're not a traditional powerhouse yet, and that takes years to build. We're not a North Dakota or Boston University or Minnesota or a school like that yet. It just takes some time," Fisher said.

Though Penn State has grown accustomed to success on the ice, it's going to take a bit of time to build up a recruitment base that can rival the best college hockey programs in the country. Despite the challenges, however, Fisher and the rest of the Nittany Lion organization are a lot further along in the process than when they started four years ago.

"Slowly, but surely, we're getting there," Fisher said. "We're just kind of getting through our first cycle of players here so I think bigger and better things will come and we're excited about the future here."

"If you keep having good recruiting classes and winning hockey games and over time those things will kind of develop on their own," Fisher said. "The more success we have, the more kids will want to come to Penn State."