Guy Gadowsky can check off one more box on his list. With each of Ohio State, Minnesota, and Notre Dame dropping points over the weekend, Penn State secured its first ever Big Ten regular season title in outright fashion.
Though it came in a somewhat anticlimactic manner with the Nittany Lions on a bye week, the accomplishment was celebrated no differently.
“It’s sweet no matter how you look at it,” Gadowsky said. “I think the real accolade is looking back at the season, you look at the teams in this league. I mean, to be able to come out on top after a long period like a season, you’ve got to feel pretty good about that.”
Both Gadowsky and the players regularly point out how no team can afford to take a night off in the Big Ten. That sentiment may have been at its truest this season. The Nittany Lions finished just three points ahead of the Buckeyes, Golden Gophers, and Michigan and were separated from sixth-place Michigan State by six points.
“The one thing to do it over the course of a season is that there’s peaks and valleys and challenges that you have to overcome. And obviously, against the competition that we have, there’s no easy night,” Gadowsky said. “That’s why I think this one feels especially good because you look at this conference right now from top to bottom, you need to be ready for every game.”
There were certainly some nights that the Nittany Lions weren’t ready and, unlike the past few seasons, the home stretch of the season didn’t exactly bring the Nittany Lions best run of games.
Still, with the conference and national tournaments still to come, the Nittany Lions have already claimed at least one banner to be hung next season.
In clinching the regular season title, Penn State also claims the first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament. The Nittany Lions will head straight to the tournament semifinals with a chance to host the Big Ten Tournament championship game at Pegula Ice Arena.
On the other side of that coin, though, that means the Nittany Lions will go three weeks with no game action until they face their semifinal opponent.
So begins the rest versus rust debate.
“I know there’s a few individuals that are very happy that we got the bye,” Gadowsky said. “There’s bumps and bruises at this time of year and I think that, specifically for a few of our guys, I think they’re thrilled.”
Wall of Fame
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An in-and-out-of-the-lineup freshman steps up in a clutch scenario to win Penn State a Big Ten title. Of course, that applies to Liam Folkes. Now, Kevin Wall can also add that to his biography.
With almost every outcome going positive for Penn State, Wall’s game-winning goal in the Nittany Lions’ regular season finale against Minnesota will be enshrined in the record books as the goal that won the Nittany Lions their first Big Ten regular season title.
“Obviously, during the game, after scoring, I just thought it was a goal to get us ahead in the game,” Wall said of his now historic tally. “I had no idea about what it could come out to.”
Wall was quick to divert praise from himself to the entire team. While true that every game and every player has helped build up to this moment, the first image associated with this title win will be Wall’s emphatic celebration midway through that third period.
Wall would likely and appropriately have had long odds to be the hero that evening. Entering the contest, the Carolina Hurricanes draft pick had just one goal and six points in 25 games, though his only other goal came on Nov. 15 against none other than the Golden Gophers.
“In the beginning, it was pretty rough,” Wall said of adjusting to the collegiate game. “Obviously, it’s much faster and plays are being made at a quicker pace.”
Wall did his best to stay positive in the early goings, giving it his all during practice to work his way back into the lineup. After playing in 12 of the team’s first 20 games, Wall has appeared in every game since being scratched on Jan. 3 against Niagara.
Even prior to his goal against the Golden Gophers, Wall seemed like the type of player poised to break out of his slump, but just couldn’t get the bounce when he needed it. As it turns out, that bounce was just waiting for a time when Penn State may have needed it more than Wall himself.
“Obviously, I’ve not been getting the points I would have expected, but lately I’ve been getting a lot more chances and I’m just really happy that one went,” he said. “It turned out to be a big goal.”