We’re just a few weekends into the season, but Peyton Jones has already put forth the frontrunner for the save of the season, a desperation stick save on Minnesota forward Mike Szmatula.
The save has made its rounds on the highlight reels, attracting the attention of the NHL on NBC and coming in at No. 4 on SportsCenter’s Top Ten plays of Friday night.
While the rest of the world was gawking at Jones’ display of athleticism and replaying the clip countless times, Guy Gadowsky was watching Jones replicate it over the next couple of days.
“We practiced Saturday, the next day, and he did it in practice, nearly identical to that,” he said Monday. “And then we were watching the pre-game skate (on Sunday), and he did it in the pre-game skate.
“I remember thinking on Friday, ‘Oh man, that’s really lucky,’ and then he did it twice in the next 48 hours.”
While the Nittany Lions were already ahead 3-0 when Jones made his desperation save, Gadowsky still viewed the play as a turning point in the team’s 3-1 win over the Golden Gophers.
"When something like that happens, you can't help but think, ‘Oh man, this is our night,’” he said.
Jones explained prior to the season that he worked the most during the offseason on his flexibility. He said that as he grew stronger, he lost some of his ability to stretch across the crease, and sought to regain that during the summer.
Based on Friday’s highlight reel save, it appears that Jones has regained most, if not all, of that lost flexibility.
A Changing Mindset
With the rapid turnover in personnel in college athletics, recruiting is an essential aspect of every head coach’s job. Guy Gadowsky has experienced virtually the full spectrum of recruiting in his short time at Penn State.
Tasked with helping to build a team from scratch when he took the head coaching position with the Nittany Lions, Gadowsky is now responsible for maintaining and improving a surprise National Title contender this season, a noticeable shift for the sixth-year Lions’ bench boss.
“It was pretty well-defined when we first got here, we needed guys that were really interested in building a foundation and, obviously, we needed players that weren’t afraid of a challenge,” he said.
Gadowsky explained that while some players were drawn to Penn State, they were not prepared to spend their collegiate career with a potential bottom-dweller.
“They told us, ‘I don’t want to lose for my entire four-year career,’” Gadowsky said.
So, Gadowsky and his staff sought out players who were comfortable with the idea of spending their four years with a losing record. It was that type of player that helped set the Nittany Lions up for the success they have achieved in their infancy of being a Division-I program.
That success has led to a new strategy for recruiting.
“Now, as we’ve sort of proved that we belong, we’re looking for more pieces of the puzzle,” Gadowsky said. “On paper, at least, there might be some more higher profile student-athletes that are interested in us.”
That recruiting strategy has already begun to take shape, notably in highly-touted recruits such as Brett Murray and Evan Barratt. But Gadowsky doesn’t want to completely abandon the foundation that the Lions success is currently perched upon.
“I think a big part of what made us successful is that we can’t forget the type of work ethic [and] attitude that got us here,” he said.
Plenty of hype surrounded a pair of Nittany Lions — one making his return to the lineup and the other making his debut — prior to the season. Unfortunately, that hype has been rather short-lived, as both have spent time early this season in the stands due to injuries.
The status of the two is looking positive, however.
Junior Kevin Kerr, who missed the last 14 games of 2016-17 with a “lower-body injury,” was shelved this weekend against the Golden Gophers with an undisclosed injury, while freshman Evan Barratt was sidelined after the first game of the regular season with an “upper-body” injury.
Gadowsky listed both players as day-to-day on Monday, saying they could return sooner rather than later.
“It’s nothing that I’m concerned about long-term,” he said. “I think all those guys are going to be back soon.”