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Locals help establish strong hockey foundation at PSU

| Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, 8:58 p.m.
Penn State senior Mike Longo, left, eyes the puck as he skates around a defender. Mark Selders | Penn State Athletic Communications
Penn State senior Mike Longo
Penn State senior George Saad looks to split the defense on his way to the goal. Mark Selders | Penn State Athletic Communications
Penn State senior George Saad
Penn State freshman goaltender Matt Skoff takes a breather during warmups before a recent game. Mark Selders | Penn State Athletic Communications
Penn State freshman Matt Skoff

The Penn State University men's ice hockey program hopes to develop into a championship contender.

Three local players are doing their part to help establish a strong foundation for the Nittany Lions, in their first season of NCAA Division-I hockey.

Senior forwards George Saad and Michael Longo played the last three seasons for Penn State's highly successful club team.

They made the jump to the D-I level this year and were joined by freshman goaltender Matthew Skoff.

“It's nice having George and Matthew around. I played with Matthew when I was younger. That helped the transition,” Longo said.

“With George, we've been playing together since our freshman years. It's nice to have someone go through the same steps as you so you can push each other and help each other out as well.

“It's actually a lot of fun. We're both seniors. Going to Penn State, we didn't think we'd play at the D-I level. We thought we'd play club. Coach Gadowsky gave us a chance to play D-I. It's been an awesome experience, especially being part of a new program and being able to help build that foundation; it's been neat to see. I think we're doing pretty well.”

The Nittany Lions are playing as an independent team this season. They join the new Big 10 hockey conference next season.

Penn State was 7-8 entering the holiday break.

“It's been a great transition, actually. Not many people expected us to do as well as we did,” Saad said.

“We're playing better teams. We started off really well. Right now, we've slowed a little. We have shown some improvement, and we're moving at a lot faster pace. Everyone is getting on the same page. Actually, the transition has been a lot smoother than we expected.”

Longo, a left winger, racked up 43 points (19 goals, 24 assists) in 73 games with Penn State's ACHA D-I club team the last three seasons.

The Hampton product had two goals in 13 games this season.

“I don't really look at myself as a goal scorer; I am more of an identity player. Coach Gadowsky wants us to set the baseline for future guys and build a foundation for the program based on work ethic and commitment. That's what I am trying to do,” he said.

“Every time I step out for practice or a game, I just work toward setting that basic foundation he wants. It's worked out pretty well for me, and hopefully I can keep it up. I just want to have fun and enjoy it.”

Saad, a right winger, had 66 points (34, 32) in 80 games over three seasons with the club squad.

Knee surgery delayed the start of his season in the fall. The Pine-Richland product was scoreless in eight games heading into the holiday break.

“I haven't been the same. I got off to a slow start in my first couple games. I sat for a couple weeks and have been in the lineup ever since,” he said.

“I am trying to get that first goal and get the monkey off my back and get things rolling.”

Saad was selected as an alternate captain this year.

“I am glad the guys chose me. It's a great honor to be any type of captain at the D-I level,” he said.

“I try to be a leader on and off the ice and get the program to be one of the elite programs in the NCAA. With joining the Big 10 next year, a lot is expected of us on the ice and off the ice. I just try to be a role model for the new guys and help show them what it'll be like.”

Skoff, a Montour product, started the program's first NCAA D-I game — a 3-2 overtime loss to American International.

Overall, he has played nine games and posted a 3-6 record, a 2.32 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage.

“Coach Gadowsky usually splits his goaltenders. If you play well, he'll keep playing you. The more games, the better for me. I like playing a lot of games. Getting in the groove is pretty important for a goaltender,” he said.

“Coming in as a freshman, I just wanted to see what college hockey was about. I set high expectations. As a goaltender, you want to win the starting job. I just want to get Penn State hockey out there and teams should take us seriously. We are a team that can make some noise in college hockey.

“We're such a young team. Our junior and senior years, we'll be able to make some big noise. I am looking forward to it.

“Longo and George have been really good to me. They know the process. They know what it takes to play a sport in college. They've been very helpful.”

Penn State's new state-of-the-art rink, the Pegula Ice Arena, opens for next season. That's just another reason why the Nittany Lions think the program will continue to improve.

“You can definitely see around campus there's excitement. There's a lot more support around the team and interest in the team,” Longo said.

“Even with the students, there have been a lot more who have come to games and supported us. The overall buzz around campus has picked up. It'll only pick up next year. It's really exciting, and this program will be something special for many years.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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