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Great Guys: Penn State Hockey Is Easy To Support

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With all of the success on the ice, it is nice to see the quality of people within the hockey community.

Photo by Heather Weikel

As Penn State fans we strive for our teams to achieve their goals while doing it the proper way. Our student-athletes and coaches are expected to carry themselves with a sense of responsibility to the university and its alumni. The 2016-17 hockey season has shown plenty of examples of success with honor in action. Fourteen members of the Lions’ hockey team were All-Big Ten Academic honorees.

Team captain David Goodwin is the epitome of all that is right with college athletics. He has traveled to Cuba and Mexico in the past two off-seasons, honing his Spanish-speaking abilities while teaching children how to speak English and mentoring them. He is a finalist and presumed front-runner for this year’s Senior CLASS Award. The award winner must “have notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, character, classroom, and competition.” Penn State’s captain last season, David Glen, was a recipient of the award, the first winner from the Big Ten conference. It is unbelievable that the Lions have had finalists for the award two seasons in a row. Should Goodwin win the award, it would speak volumes of the culture surrounding the hockey team.

Goodwin’s name is fitting for his demeanor; he is a winner and a good guy. Immediately following the first-ever win for the Lions in the NCAA tournament Goodwin was set to join the press for post-game interviews. It was just a few minutes after the conclusion of the historic 10-3 drubbing of Union. Goodwin was showered and ready to walk down the concourse of the stadium beneath the stands to the stage where the reporters waited.

The hallway outside of the locker rooms in US Bank Arena is about 6 feet wide. Just outside of the Penn State locker room door, a fold-up table was set with fruit, sandwiches, and beverages for the players and team. It cut the space to walk past it to just a few feet; comfortable for one or two people but too tight for more than that at one time. A player rested against a rail across from the table, so I made sure that all was clear, no other people would try to pass the table in the space available, before I began to walk toward the press conference. Just as I began to walk through the tight space, Goodwin emerged from the locker room. Realizing that there wasn’t space for both of us, I stopped and began to walk backwards to give the senior captain, and leader of the greatest season in Penn State hockey program history, a path to get by.

Instead he saw me and stopped in his tracks and backed up so that I could continue by. I stopped and nodded toward the table and said, “Sorry man, go ahead.” Instead he gave me a look as though he had done something rude, making me stop, and said, “No, sorry,” and made it clear that he wanted me to continue. Then he said to me, as though apologizing, “I’m just going to grab a banana and some water.”

It would not have been out of line for Goodwin to apply a solid hip-check, clearing a path to the table. Who would dare block the team captain, the program’s leading all-time scorer, who simply wanted to hydrate and replenish some of the calories burned during the monumental effort that ended less than ten minutes prior? His class is genuine and the years to come will prove that he is one of the great all-time Penn Staters.

Following the loss to Denver this was Goodwin’s final post-game locker room address as captain of the team.

The Best Guy of All

During the season there was a great deal of attention paid to the makeup of the Penn State team, both in the age and also the mental composition. The team was young, and at times it showed, but there was a quiet confidence and determination that also shined through at various critical moments.

It became clear toward the end of the season that the team’s personality was a mirror image of that of its coach, Guy Gadowsky. He’s young, too, for a head coach with the experience of building programs at three different universities. Gadowsky will turn 50 prior to the start of next season. He also has the personal momentum and drive of a boulder rolling down a hill; he’s going where he’s going, regardless of any energy pulling him in other directions. The team followed his determination, and sometimes relied on it, during difficult stretches of the season.

And all the while Gadowsky maintained his composure and kept his temper in check when outside voices tempted him to vent or prove a point. There were plenty of times that the coach could have allowed his emotions to get the better of him. Following the deeply disappointing last-second loss to Minnesota, Gadowsky explained the final play of the game in a way that only he could.

Leading by one goal, on Saturday night of THON weekend, with just 7 seconds on the clock, a critical face-off in front of Penn State goalie Peyton Jones was all that stood between the Lions and a much-needed Big Ten win. Minnesota won the face-off and scored with just 3.5 seconds on the clock, then went on to hand the Lions a heart-breaking, doubt-inspiring loss in overtime. Gadowsky explained that it was his fault that the goal was scored, not a breakdown from any of the players.

He asserted that it was his failure to account for the skater taking the face-off, and that his players executed the strategy as he laid it out.

It’s certain that at least three or four players felt that it was their fault, as the play unfolded in their midst, and Gadowsky was not wearing skates or on the ice at the time of the goal. His leadership, and willingness to take the heat for his team, is something that has become evident in his style.

If you can’t stand the heat, stay away from the back of the Zamboni. Coach Gadowsky took all of the massive emotional swings during the season with the exact same expression on his face. His calm under fire is impressive.

Minutes before the first game of the NCAA tournament with Union, Colin Piatt, Mark Fischer of the Daily Collegian, and I were heading for the press box for the start of the game. We were probably more nervous than Gadowsky, who passed us as we were walking toward the elevator. He noticed Colin and Mark, who have worked the hockey beat this season and have been to dozens of press functions. In a calm, conversational tone he said hello and that it was nice to see them, exchanging casual banter.

As the three of us continued on we were blown away at how cool he was, and that he took time out to greet us, with so much that must have been swimming around in his head prior to one of the most important games of his coaching career.

Gadowsky is a confirmed great guy. Like David Goodwin, his contributions to the university go much deeper than wins on the ice, which are starting to pile up. He is a true Penn Stater, one that we can all be proud to support as he continues to form the program into a national powerhouse.

Coach joined the BTN on Wednesday to talk about the season, having a couple of days to unwind and digest the recent events. Gadowsky summed up the 2016-17 experience for us all.

Jim Montgomery Is Also A Good Guy

I grew up within walking distance of the University of Maine and followed the hockey team closely during the 1980’s and early 1990’s. Until Sunday night I forgot that way back in 1990 I played a round of golf with Denver’s head coach Jim Montgomery.

At that time he wasn’t Jim Montgomery, he was just a sophomore with a french-Canadian accent. He had a very respectable freshman season the year before, scoring 26 goals with 34 assists. He would go on to be the highest-scorer in the University of Maine’s history, netting 301 points. He scored 95 points during the 1992-93 season and captained the University of Maine team to an amazing 42-1-2 finish.

Oddly enough, Montgomery didn’t place first on his team for points scored that year, as Paul Kariya had one of the best seasons ever recorded by an NCAA hockey player, scoring 100 points. Not to take anything away from Kariya, as his talent is immense and he went on to play a nice NHL career, but Montgomery was a complete player.

To compare him to a Penn State player, Montgomery would be a combination of Dylan Richard and Denis Smirnov, with the demeanor of Andrew Sturtz. He was everything at all times; back-checking, fore-checking, blocking shots, being a menace to the opposing squad. Kariya, for all his talents, was a pure offensive player. There were players in those days that were deployed just to make sure that the other team did not check Kariya; personal protectors.

Kariya is so disinclined to checking that to this day he always pays cash for his purchases; doesn’t even carry a debit card because it is linked to checking. When he flies on an airplane he only brings a carry-on item because he doesn’t want to check his bags. Montgomery scored five fewer points in the same season while playing a complete game; he had bruises in places most people don’t have places. Like a punch-drunk ballerina, he glided across the ice with the puck fused to his stick as though it was born to be there.

As the Denver team celebrated on the ice following the victory versus Penn State, coach Montgomery gave his post-game interview on the bench. Once the interview was over, he made his way into the tunnel that leads to the locker rooms. Once in the tunnel, he reached up to the stands and helped a young boy around the age of nine down. It was his son. He then grabbed a smaller boy, his other son, and set him down amidst the celebrating players and fans yelling down to them from the stands.

The smaller child immediately looked up at his dad, his face wrinkled with concern. The erratic celebration surrounding him was not what he was anticipating. With players hooting and hollering as they passed by Montgomery and his sons, fans yelling from above, the father noticed his son’s discomfort and grabbed him into his arms. After a brief word of encouragement into his ear it seemed that all was well and the youngster was ready to enjoy the celebration.

I watched this unfold from the opposite side of the tunnel, in the hallway outside of the locker room. Minutes later the younger boy, no longer having any fear, and the elder, were running among the towering hockey players, having a great time. Coach was talking to his staff, preparing for what follows after the win that sent the team to the Frozen Four. Montgomery emerged from his private room and found the older of the two boys and asked him, “Where’s mom?” The boy gave a blank stare. “I want her to see this,” coach said, and walked back down the tunnel toward the stands, looking for his better half, scanning the faces for his wife, Emily.

At that moment he had what was his first instance of calm in the past few hours. He walked to a table where I was standing. Grabbing a slice of pizza from the buffet table, he walked toward me so I extended my hand.

“I wanted to congratulate you, coach, on the win and all of your success,” I said, and he reached out the hand that was not holding a half-eaten slice of pizza, and shook my hand.

“I used to watch you play when you were at U-Maine,” I followed up. His eyes lit up a little bit, his eyebrows lifted upward toward his shiny forehead, “I’m Pic Doucette’s grandson.”

Pic Doucette was my grandfather, and he was the equipment manager for the University of Maine hockey team while Montgomery was a player at the school. Montgomery immediately responded, “Pic? We loved him.” There was a brief pause, “We played golf together, right?”

The statement threw me but I immediately remembered the occasion. It was the summer of 1990. I was 16 and Montgomery was 20. It was many years and two full heads of hair ago that we shared a golf cart for four hours.

I shook my head and we both shared a smile, he took another bite of his pizza and then asked the obvious question, one that I had anticipated since it was my grandfather that was the common thread between the two of us. Montgomery again lifted his eyebrows and said, “Your grandfather.”

I nodded with a smile and looked down momentarily before answering, “He died a couple of weeks ago,” not wanting to throw a wet blanket on top of his celebration I continued, without leaving time for a pause, “it was ok, though. He had a long, happy life. He was 87.”

Remembering the scene I just watched with Montgomery and his sons I thought about what had always been most important to my grandfather; his family. “He had five kids, a dozen grand kids and was healthy until a few months before he passed. He had a good life.”

He could see by my expression that there was no need for consolation or a sad look, he simply smiled and shook my hand. That’s when the realization came to me that had it not been for my grandfather, I would not be talking to him, so I said what I thought Papa would say at that moment.

“Congratulations on your success off the ice, you have a nice family.”

A few minutes later he was back on the ice with his younger son in his arms, snapping one last memory for he and his boys to share in future years.

Jim Montgomery was one of the most complete hockey players to ever strap on skates at the collegiate level. He did the little things that don’t show up in the box score. He scored goals, got assists, and was the team captain as well. He is also one of the fastest-rising, highest-paid college hockey coaches in the country. Watching him with his team and family, it is nice to see that he is a complete package off the ice as well.