Guy Gadowsky has made a few stops since he made his head coaching debut with the Fresno Falcons of the West Coast Hockey League in 1996. He spent three seasons with the Falcons, then spent 12 combined seasons behind the bench for Alaska-Fairbanks and Princeton before he landed the job at Penn State in 2011.
Gadowsky has proven to be successful wherever he ends up, having posted 20-plus win seasons at each of his collegiate stops. The Nittany Lions’ opponent this weekend is one that Gadowsky grew familiar with during his time in The Last Frontier.
During his five seasons as coach of the Nanooks, Gadowsky’s squad regularly faced off against Alaska-Anchorage. Their matchups have produced some of the most heated games Gadowsky has seen, a potential result of the particularly indirect six-hour drive separating the two universities.
“The games that I was a part of at UAA vs UAF were unbelievable,” he said Monday. Gadowsky added the draw of playing in those intense rivalry games brings plenty of players to the state.
Those matchups, along with the two programs, nearly ceased to exist over the summer. State budget concerns caused by a faltering oil market resulted in propositions to, at worst, cut all athletics from both Alaska schools or, at best, combine the athletic departments into one. Other propositions included cutting the ice hockey programs at both universities or cutting the Seawolves’ program while leaving the Nanooks’ in tact.
With a limited understanding of the region’s economy, Gadowsky still found it hard to conceive the idea of Alaska without either or both teams.
“It was disappointing for me to see, coaching in Alaska for five years, that that was a possibility,” he said. “I’m really happy it never happened, but disappointed it was even in the conversation.”
During his time with the Nanooks, Gadowsky had a first-hand look at how important the sport and its collegiate teams were to the state.
“From living there, I know how much hockey means to the people in that state,” he said. “For the people in [Fairbanks], I would feel terrible if Division-I hockey was taken away from them.”
Facing off against a team that almost vanished has also given Gadowsky and his players a deeper appreciation for their situation in State College.
“It’s something that you come in every day to a facility like this, you might start to take it for granted and something like that is a really big reminder for just how fortunate we are,” senior Dylan Richard said. “We try and go day-by-day and really appreciate what we have.”
While the Nanooks and Seawolves appear safe for now, Gadowsky hopes the college hockey universe will find a way to ensure cutting either program never appears in a conversation again.
“It’s my hope that as there is success at Penn State and hopefully Arizona State and the Big Ten, I’m hoping that other bigger athletic departments jump in and the profile of hockey grows,” he said. “If that happens, that will be good for everybody.”