Fresh off its most successful season in program history, Penn State is heading into the season no longer as the underdog looking to prove itself, but as an NCAA Tournament contender gearing up to take the next step toward its ultimate goal.
While many of the players have the same goal in mind, coach Guy Gadowsky explained that they haven’t discussed it as a group yet.
“Honestly, we haven’t talked about that yet, but it’s something that we learned a lot last year,” he said at Thursday’s season-opening press conference.
Gadowsky admitted that he did a “poor” job of preparing his team for the national attention they were about to receive after climbing the USCHO poll to No. 1 late in January. The sixth-year head coach expects that to change this year, thanks in large part to last season’s experience.
“I think as a coaching staff, we will be better prepared for it,” he said. “And hopefully that will translate to the team being better prepared for it.”
There’s a New Captain in Town
For the fourth consecutive season, the Nittany Lions will have a new player don the captain’s “C” on his jersey. James Robinson, an alternate captain last season, took over the role for the recently graduated David Goodwin.
Robinson’s roles both current and former serve as reflections of his standing in the locker room.
Coming off a season in which he played one shift before going down for the season with an injury, the senior forward was still voted as one of Goodwin’s two alternates alongside Ricky DeRosa.
Robinson still found himself in and out of the lineup almost on a weekly basis, largely playing fourth-line minutes and on the penalty kill.
Robinson maintained his locker room presence, however, and has been rewarded for it with his new role, one he doesn’t take lightly.
“We have so many guys who could be wearing not only the ‘C’ but any kind of letter,” he said. “To be presented with the ‘C’ is just a huge honor.”
Due to NCAA rules, Robinson and his alternate captains Erik Autio and Chase Berger have been in charge of practices leading up to the season. While Gadowsky doesn’t have a great understanding of how they have gone, he can be confident his new leadership group will live up to his standards.
“I certainly haven’t heard anything negative,” Gadowsky said, “and I wouldn’t expect it.”
The Nittany Lions faced a difficult test in winning the Big Ten Tournament last season. Finishing fourth in the conference, the Lions had to play three games, two of which went to double overtime, to bring home the title, a feat no prior conference champion had accomplished.
This year may pose an entirely different test, however. At least, that’s how Gadowsky sees it.
“This is by far the toughest head-to-toe that Big Ten hockey has had,” he said Thursday.
The conference sent three participants to last season’s National Tournament and added another with the news that Notre Dame would become the seventh conference foe beginning this season.
It’s not just the addition of the Frozen Four participant Fighting Irish that will make the conference that much stronger, however. Ohio State put up a strong fight against National runner-up Minnesota-Duluth, Wisconsin narrowly missed out on making the National Tournament and 4-for-4 regular season champion Minnesota may improve on an already impressive season.
“It certainly doesn’t make it easier to stay out of the basement of this league,” Gadowsky said. “There’s going to be teams that are in the basement of the Big Ten that are excellent hockey teams.”