Throughout the season, Guy Gadowsky made it clear week in and week out that he did not pay attention to the rankings. He repeated every Monday (and the occasional Tuesday) that he did not have any discussion with his players about how far and how quickly Penn State was rising in the USCHO polls.
Even when the Nittany Lions were voted No. 1 for the first time in program history, Gadowsky kept his focus on what the team was doing on the ice, not what was being said about it off the ice, saying he wanted to avoid the noise surrounding the team.
By not bringing it up with his players, he knew he was keeping a distraction out of his team’s mind. While he was being honest with the media, he admitted Tuesday he may not have been honest with himself.
“I didn’t recognize the amount of noise that it brought,” he said. “[I] probably wasn’t honest with the fact that it was a distraction.”
That No. 1 ranking was announced just a few days before the Lions hosted Ohio State in late January. The hype that grew around that weekend seemed to rival a football weekend. With a conference rival in town, a White Out game opening the weekend and suddenly the national spotlight shining on them, the Lions squandered their first major appearance on the national stage, tying the Buckeyes that Friday and dropping Saturday’s contest 6-3.
Gadowsky knew then that he needed to refocus, and contacted another Penn State coach who had also guided his team into the national spotlight.
“I asked coach [James] Franklin if I could meet with him,” Gadowsky said. “By no means am I comparing our situations at all. But who else better to ask about that kind of stuff?”
Gadowsky, understanding the busy schedule of a head football coach, asked Franklin for 10 minutes of his time. The conversation between the two ended up lasting an hour. Gadowsky found the conversation invaluable for the remainder of the season, and credited his team’s Big Ten Championship and berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“Once he found out the subject, I think he understood the importance of it,” Gadowsky said. “I’m not going to tell you everything he said, but I can tell you it was very, very positive.”
Funkey Fuels the Fire
Penn State had plenty of heroes on its way to the program’s first Big Ten Championship and first appearance in the NCAA Tournament. A few names stick out above the rest.
Erik Autio had his moment in the Big Ten Semifinal against Minnesota, burying a pass from Denis Smirnov to send the Nittany Lions to the Championship Game, where Liam Folkes became the hero, scoring twice against Wisconsin, including his double overtime game winner on a breakaway.
Those heroics were overshadowed by Peyton Jones stellar run. The freshman netminder stopped 118 of 123 shots and was named the Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
One name that goes under the radar is the man who spent most of the games on the end of the bench as backup to Jones: Chris Funkey. The sophomore goaltender has become a locker room favorite for his outgoing personality and constant positivity.
"We don't get where we were without a guy like Chris Funkey in the locker room," Andrew Sturtz said on Tuesday. “[He] brings something that a coaching staff can’t necessarily bring.”
For a goalie that has played just over 300 minutes in his first two seasons, Funkey has embraced his role as backup — and previously third-string — netminder.
"Having a guy like him as your partner is unbelievable,” Jones said. “He’s so supportive. He’s said it before, when I’m in net, he wants me to be the best that I possibly can, and when he’s in net, I want him to be the best that he possibly can.”
While some goalies can become bitter by being relegated to the backup role, Funkey’s positivity has allowed he and Jones to develop a strong bond with one another.
“That’s a relationship you really don’t find.”
Funkey can bring more than just support to the locker room during a game. As the coaching staff found out, and has since repeated when the team needed it most, Funkey has gotten the Lions riled up for a game by simply reading the lineup card with passion rivaled only by Herb Brooks (or, rather, Kurt Russell playing Herb Brooks).
“It’s something that only a guy like Chris Funkey can do,” he said. “There’s other guys in the country that can do it, I’m sure. I don’t know if there’s a lot of other guys in our dressing room that are capable of doing what he does right before a game.”
Nittany Lions Bid Farewell to Vince Pedrie
While it may not have been a surprise, it is certainly something Penn State isn’t used to.
When Vince Pedrie announced Monday night that he would forgo his final two years of eligibility to sign with the New York Rangers, he became just the third Nittany Lion to leave early to join the professional ranks, joining Casey Bailey and Eamon McAdam, who were both juniors when they signed their respective contracts.
Guy Gadowsky understood it was possible that Pedrie would head for the pros early. The now-former sophomore defenseman recorded 30 points in 39 games this season, setting the single-season record by a defenseman. Pedrie also moved into second place all-time in points by a Lions’ blueliner with 52, just eight points behind Luke Juha’s 60.
While he will be sorely missed, the Lions offered nothing but praise and support for Pedrie and his decision to go pro.
"I hate to see Vince go but I wish him the best of luck,” Trevor Hamilton said. “He's gonna do great out there."
"We’re super happy for him. It couldn’t happen to a better guy,” Ricky DeRosa said. “If you were to ask me if I saw it coming, I don't know. But you look at the work Pedrie's put in, especially this past summer... It's incredible."
“Being one of my best friends, coming in with me, I was there for him last night,” Sturtz said. “It was awesome. We’re so proud of him.”