Upper St. Clair native Mendelson to join Penn State hockey program

| Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Matt Mendelson woke up in his bedroom in his parents' Upper St. Clair home over the holiday break surrounded by his sister's Penn State women's hockey clothing.

It was a sign for him to sign a letter of intent to play for the Nittany Lions' hockey team in 2015 … or so his sister Cara thought. Cara is a junior on the Penn State women's team and doubled as one of the top recruiting tools for her brother's decision.

“I woke up and there were like 10 shirts, 10 pairs of pants, 10 zip ups, you name it,” he said. “I looked up and saw her and she said ‘Do you want to wear all of this?

“I guess you can say she played a pretty big part in me committing.”

Mendelson, 18, is living in Michigan and playing for the USHL's Muskegon Lumberjacks, but in the summer of 2015, his place of residence will be Happy Valley.

“Originally, I thought I wanted to play Ivy League hockey either at Dartmouth, Princeton or Cornell,” Mendelson said. “In the end I went with my heart and that was Penn State.”

Mendelson has shown flashes of promise for Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky. Through his first 36 games with Muskegon this year, the 5-foot-9, 165-pound forward scored 13 goals and recorded 26 points.

Mendelson's time in the USHL has prepared him for the demands of playing at the Division-I level and he said it's prepared him for life on his own.

“Hockey-wise it's the best you get in the country,” he said. “It's a great stepping stone for college. Once you play in the USHL it's a smoother transition than any other league.

“I learned from older guys that have helped teach me about hockey and life.”

The USHL is a premier junior hockey organization that's known for developing college-bound hockey players with its rigorous on-ice style. Mendelson said he jumped at the opportunity to join the Lumberjacks and further improve his game.

When making his college decision, Mendelson looked at Penn State for its proximity to home and the opportunity to be a building block in an up and coming Big 10 program.

“They are starting to get a lot of good recruits so it's only a matter of time before they are a powerhouse like Minnesota and Michigan,” Mendelson said. “It'll be special to help turn it around.”

“Every kid dreams of playing pro and moving on in hockey. Penn State is a great place to pursue that.”

Mendelson said he's worked diligently over the years on the mental side of the game and gained a firm grasp on what his role should generally be. Although he's small in stature, he understands the game and works hard to pay close attention to detail on both the offensive and defensive ends of the ice.

There is something he'd physically like to improve before heading to State College.

“I need to be ready to play in the Big 10 and gain some weight so I can compete against grown men and the biggest guys in the country,” he said. “I have two big summers ahead of me to get ahead of that.”

Brian Graham is a freelance writer.

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