Lions excited about Big Ten hockey debut

UNIVERSITY PARK – A new season, a new conference, a new home and a new era into major collegiate hockey await coach Guy Gadowsky and his Penn State Nittany Lions squad this upcoming season.

Penn State comes into the 2013-14 season with a young, but experienced squad that has just one returning senior. Lead by sophomores Casey Bailey (14-13-27) and David Glen (16-9-25), along with juniors Max Gardiner (3-19-22), Taylor Holstrom (9-8-17), and captain Tommy Olczyk, the Nittany Lions hope to improve upon last year’s 13-14 record.

But the buzz Monday at Media Day revolved around two topics – the Pegula Ice Arena, the new home of men’s and women’s ice hockey, and the birth of the Big Ten Conference, the first BCS conference in the history of the sport.

The arena, built thanks to a $102 million dollar gift from Terry and Kim Pegula, is a state-of-the-art facility that rivals any of the best arenas in college hockey. The arena is a 200,000 square-foot building with close to 6,000 seats for hockey fans, including 1,000 seats for the students. The goal is to make it the Mecca of college hockey venues on the East Coast.

“To describe the arena, I mean, it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful from a fan perspective … There is not a bad seat in the house, as you can imagine,” Gadowsky said. “From the student body perspective, it’s not only beautiful, it’s fun. The student section is awesome. From their perspective, fun. From a student-athlete perspective, convenient.”

And for the players?

“I don’t want to say excessive, but they have everything there that they need to develop. So certainly it’s convenient for them in the fact that whether it’s working out in a tremendous weight room, looking at video, studying, certainly training, other aspects of skills in hockey, medical attention, everything is there for them,” Gadowsky said. “The building has exceeded our expectations and I can’t wait to see the reaction of everyone on Oct. 11.”

Another impact the arena will have is on recruiting, something that’s already happening with seven solid freshman coming on board this season, including goalie Eamon McAdam, a third-round draft pick by the New York Islanders in the 2013 Draft.

Add to it the inclusion of the Nittany Lions into the all-new Big Ten Conference, and you can’t help but hear the excitement in Gadowsky’s voice.

“The hockey community was something that surprised me pleasantly when I got on campus. I was very pleasantly surprised, how ingrained it was already, so there is a passion for hockey in Happy Valley already,” he said. “And while the transition to be a Division I team is certainly tremendous, and the anticipation, excitement for the Big Ten hockey conference is certainly incredibly exciting. So when you are recruiting there is a tremendous buzz about what’s going to happen and what it’s going to mean.”

Being in the Big Ten also means a tougher schedule than the one Penn State faced last season, its first year in Division I.

Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan are all conference and national powers. Add to the mix perennial Frozen Four challenges from UMass-Lowell and Boston College, it’s easy to see that duplicating 13 wins will be tough. Gadowsky believes his charges are ready to accept the challenge.

“That is part of the excitement about it,” Gadowsky said. “The players are all here. These are the guys. If we recruited you to come to Penn State, we believe you’re someone hungry to accept that challenge. We don’t know. Trust me, we’re not naive. We understand very well how great the programs are in the Big Ten Conference and our entire schedule. We were very, very understanding of that and very respectful of that. At the same time, we need players that have that understanding but are hungry to accept the challenge.

“With that being said, we have no idea how we’ll do, but we’re looking forward to finding out. I know that our work ethic is even better than it was last year.”

The finding out begins when the Nittany Lions host Army in the season opener – and the arena opener – on homecoming weekend in a game that is already sold out.

A new era in hockey is about to unfold at Penn State and with it, the excitement of a program with all signs pointing to an incredibly bright future.

“This is just a very exciting time for Penn State and Penn State hockey,” Gadowsky said. “I think we’re all here because we’re very excited to compete against the best. And such great programs and storied programs in college hockey are in this conference, so it’s an incredible honor to be a part of it.”