Prior to the season, Guy Gadowsky made it clear there was an open competition for the starting job in goal.
Through Penn State’s first two weekends of the season, Gadowsky has stuck to that promise.
Gadowsky has rotated between senior Chris Funkey and junior Peyton Jones, and the coaching strategy has been paying off for the Nittany Lions. Both goaltenders have started and won two games this season.
After an inconsistent sophomore campaign, Jones has looked more like the freshman that went off in the Big Ten Tournament, yielding just one goal in each game and sporting a .973 save percentage.
Gadowsky has been pleased with the healthy competition between his two netminders.
“When you do have really good people, internal competition is a great thing,” he said on Monday. “Truly, they’re each other’s biggest fans. They want each other to succeed and I think that’s why it works so well.”
While the competition between Jones and Funkey is nothing new, Gadowsky’s disposal of the two netminders has differed from Jones’ first two seasons.
Over the prior two seasons, Jones had started 71 of the team’s 77 games. The new approach to the goaltending duo hasn’t affected how Jones approaches every week, though. Nor has it affected the duo’s relationship.
“Peyton’s honestly become one of my closest friends on the team,” Funkey said. “We know each guy wants to play better than the other guy, but when it comes to games, it’s all about winning.”
Even before Jones arrived, Funkey was just as supportive when he was the third-string goalie behind a similar situation to what he is involved in now.
During the 2015-16 season, Funkey’s freshman year, Gadowsky rotated between junior Eamon McAdam and senior Matthew Skoff for a majority of the season before McAdam took over the starting role. Shortly after the season ended, McAdam departed for the NHL, leaving a year of eligibility on the table.
Similarly, Jones has been fielding calls from a number of NHL teams.
Jones has attended three NHL development camps — San Jose, Washington and Chicago — over the past two summers. Gadowsky had to face the possibility of losing Jones just this summer.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that Peyton was offered contracts, and he chose to come back to school, which we’re very proud of,” Gadowsky said.
Regardless of what transpires once the season ends, Gadowsky trusts his judgement.
“I’m confident that things will work out the way they should in the end and that going through it this way is a positive,” he said.
“Extra Skater” Earning Extra Praise
During the summer, the NCAA introduced a new rule allowing teams to carry a 19th skater in their lineups.
For Guy Gadowsky, that extra skater has made quite the impact this season.
After suiting up for just two games during his freshman season, Adam Pilewicz has played all four games this year in that flex position. Capable of playing both forward and defense, the new role suits Pilewicz nicely.
There was never a guarantee that Pilewicz would make the role his. But the work Pilewicz put it during the offseason gave Gadowsky no other choice.
“He’s a guy that obviously doesn’t get a ton of playing time. But he comes with the right attitude every single day,” captain Chase Berger said of Pilewicz. “He’s consistently on the ice early, working on his shot, trying to get better, positive in the locker room.”
Gadowsky wasn’t sure how he would like the rule change. Any coach would be pleased with being able to rest players in game and still having a complete lineup should the injury bug bite. But there were still some doubts.
“There’s positives, but there’s negatives as well. I think I would fall in the camp of you’re always afraid of what you don’t understand,” Gadowsky said.
Gadowsky wasn’t the only one who saw the possible harm an extra skater can have.
“I think at first [we thought], ‘Is this guy going to be coming in, disrupting flow? If he’s not playing, it’s going to be negative.’ I think maybe there were some concerns about that,” Berger said. “But I think, honestly, it’s been unbelievable.”
Having an extra skater in the lineup hasn’t negatively impacted team chemistry, however. Quite the contrary, as a matter of fact.
In the Nittany Lions 8-2 win over Niagara on Friday night, Pilewicz recorded his first career goal while on a line with Berger and freshman Aarne Talvitie. Blake Gober was originally listed as that line’s right wing on the pregame lineup chart.
Without the “extra skater” position, Gadowsky and the Nittany Lions could have missed out on an extraordinary moment.
“That was one of the loudest benches I have ever heard, in my entire life,” Gadowsky said.
Smirnov’s Season Debut
Penn State has been bit by injury bug early this season, as two of the Nittany Lions’ top players started the season in the press box.
Last weekend provided plenty of optimism, however, as Denis Smirnov made his season debut against Niagara.
The talented Russian missed the Nittany Lions first weekend series against Clarkson after getting injured in the International Game against Brock. While Smirnov didn’t register a point until picking up an assist on Kris Myllari’s empty-net goal late in Saturday’s matchup, Gadowsky found the bright side in Smirnov’s absence from the score sheet.
“The most encouraging stat of the weekend is you have an 8-2 win and Denis Smirnov doesn’t get a point,” he said. “He’s going to get it going. We’re not concerned about him at all.”
The Colorado Avalanche draft pick certainly helped create chances against the Purple Eagles, firing five shots on goal in the two games. Gadowsky was equally impressed with Smirnov’s performance without the puck.
Given the magic he creates with the puck on his stick, Smirnov would hardly be blamed for conserving his energy for an offensive opportunity. Against the Purple Eagles, however, Smirnov would routinely backcheck and find himself in battles along the boards.
Smirnov has always had a bit of an edge to his finesse style, but Gadowsky and the coaching staff implored him to take it to another level this season.
“I think that’s feedback that he received not only from us at the end of the year but from the NHL team that drafted him, in terms of being more involved all over the ice instead of at the end of an offensive play,” Gadowsky said. “It didn’t surprise us. We were hopeful that he would do that.”