Penn State prepared to become 'hockey school'
And so it begins.
Penn State University, a football school if ever there was one, officially joins the ranks of Division I hockey tonight at State College.
Judging by the standing-room-only sellout expected at Greenberg Ice Pavillion tonight when Penn State hosts American International College, there is a considerable hockey buzz these days at Happy Valley.
“It was a lot of fun to see how many people came out and supported us,” defenseman Nate Jensen said of the scene at a recent midnight practice. “I feel like this college could become a hockey school.”
Everyone involved in the Penn State program — from Jensen and captain Tommy Olczyk to coach Guy Gadowsky — can't wait for this evening, when the moment finally arrives. A credible club team for so long, Penn State is finally a varsity program.
This season will see the Nittany Lions play independently. Starting next season, they'll be the newest member of the powerful Big Ten hockey conference.
“We've been practicing for a month or so, and we're pretty excited to put that jersey on,” Jensen said. “There's a little bit of nerves, but we're pretty excited to get out there and play a couple games, get a couple hits in and get the crowd involved. It's going to be a fun night for all of us.”
Although there is a sense of excitement regarding the program, expectations are realistic.
Gadowsky realizes that building an upper-level hockey program will take time.
“We will not be judging our success and our progress through wins and losses,” he said. “Certainly wins and losses are going to be a by-product of the job we do in terms of how we do with the foundation.”
Gadowsky wants his team to play a fast and physical style that, incidentally, should be crowd-pleasing.
While loads of wins aren't necessarily on the forecast for the Nittany Lions, an exciting brand of hockey, a big name and significant exposure are.
Penn State will play games this season at Consol Energy Center and at Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center. The Penn State captain will be well known wherever he plays because of his dad: Olcyzk's father is Ed Olczyk, the former Penguins coach and player.
The first Penn State varsity captain is drawing heavy praise. If it takes a courageous bunch to begin a Division I hockey program, Gadowsky feels his captain is the man to lead the way.
“The way he represents himself in the general public is excellent,” Gadowsky said. “I think he is a tremendous representative of this team. Plus, on the ice, he is very talented.”
Olcyzk's teammates shower him with praise, and true to his nature, he has remained humble despite being named captain.
The captain and his teammates don't know what to expect this season. To a man, though, they promise to give maximum effort. And they're all looking forward to the same thing.
“I'm just looking forward to Friday,” he said. “It's my first NCAA game. I've waited a long time for this.”
So, too, has Happy Valley.