The Penn State hockey team has put together a historic season seemingly out of nowhere. Head coach Guy Gadowsky admitted that he and his staff were not sure if this season would be a rebuilding year or one that the team would struggle to match the success of the previous season.
The Lions won a program-record 21 games in 2015-16, and late in the season tempted the possibility of squeezing into the NCAA tournament field. In the last couple of weeks it lost three games in a row, including the two final games of the season to a loaded Michigan squad. Following the season the team lost a great deal of leadership, talent, and two goalies that logged a lot of ice time. It was uncertain if the team could regroup with just the off-season to fit in the new players that joined the team.
In 2014-15 Penn State finished with a winning record for the first time in program history, finishing 18-15-4. While that record does not appear miraculous looking back from our current No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament, it was more than any player, coach or fan could have imagined at the start of the season. Again the team was led by a group of seniors who left after the season, in addition to junior Casey Bailey who left for the NHL after setting a new program goal-scoring record.
This year was a wildcard, even for head coach Guy Gadowsky. Following the Big Ten Championship, this is what he had to say about his team’s effort.
I’m incredibly proud and grateful to be a part of this university, to be part of this team. To play so many periods in three days and to pull it out was-I know that they are really good players-but I had no idea that they had that much grit. I’m just really proud to be a part of it.
It seems universally shared among the hockey team and its supporters that they are happy for one another, but also for the university. The school and its culture of support for its own makes all of its members eager to achieve greatness that will reflect back on the Penn State family. The hockey team is inspired by the Nittany Lion community, and hopefully this weekend that love will be sent back its way in the form of support for their first trip to the NCAA college hockey tournament.
Everyone Hates Us
For those people who are familiar with the landscape of college football it is known that there is a media bias, although waning in recent years, in favor of the Southeast Conference. There is an entire television network dedicated to pumping up SEC football; the Entertainment and Sports Programming Networks. There is another, the SEC Network, that broadcasts its sporting events nationally.
The pro-SEC bias has drawn ire from those teams and fans outside of the SEC, as it is disgustingly obvious that the conference is over-hyped by the media. The exact opposite is true of B1G hockey.
Many college hockey fans outside of the B1G have a negative opinion of the conference and its members. The media shares this viewpoint, and at times this season has spoken openly about the lack of interest in Penn State due to their affiliation with the Big Ten. Had any other team, from another conference, accomplished what the Lions have this season, it would have been showered with media praise and adoration.
Instead we had to hear, all season long, that the Lions were not as swell as we in Hockey Valley feel that they are. The reoccurring mantra for devaluing the Penn State team was that their schedule strength was weak. PSU finished the year with the No. 9 RPI position, and in that statistical format, had the 17th-toughest schedule. That negative spot on the Lion’s record was a fictional narrative created by the media.
Those of us following the team posited that were Penn State from another conference, and wore another uniform, say that of the Lions’ first-round opponent Union, it would be the poster-child for all that is good in college hockey. Union is a great hockey school, one that won the NCAA tournament in 2014, no one is taking anything away from them.
That’s the point. When talking about No. 8 Union, there is no mention of their 38th-ranked strength of schedule, nor are there negative qualifications when discussing their play on the ice as there are when it comes to the B1G conference.
So that brings us to our Monday Morning Penalty Kill question.
With Penn State hockey in the NCAA tournament for the first time, and also Minnesota and Ohio State from the B1G conference, can we count on your active support?
BSD’s Tim Aydin mentioned yesterday that he has an acquaintance that is loyal to Union hockey, and that they have already begun to talk trash back and forth. Tim isn’t a big hockey fan, but he is a PSU guy through and through. So now that people are paying attention to our hockey team in his circle of friends, so is he. His support, in the form of playful banter with his friend, puts a little extra wind in the sail of the Penn State hockey program.
Now imagine what the college hockey world outside of the B1G is dealing with since the hated conference has three of 16 teams in the tournament. Minnesota is widely respected by college hockey fans but OSU and PSU are not. Shut your eyes and visualize how badly your disdain is for all things Ohio State. Now imagine it being even worse, more acute. I know that it is difficult, if not frightening to undertake such an exercise, but that is how those outside of the B1G hockey feel about both OSU and Penn State. They hate us. They really hate us right now.
So can we count on your support, your playful banter with associates should the topic of NCAA hockey come up this week? Can you hold your nose, and just once, talk nicely about Ohio State? If only to poke a friend in the ribs verbally or digitally? While it may hurt you to do so, just remember, it hurts your fellow college hockey fan a little bit more. It’s payback time for all the negativity sent the B1G’s way.