As Guy Gadowsky concluded the final news conference of Penn State's season, he mentioned a statistic from earlier in his coaching career, long before he arrived in University Park, to illustrate the team's progress. He had been hired by Alaska - his first coaching job in the NCAA - in the hope that he would be able to develop the Nanooks into the kind of team that could compete against elite opponents such as Michigan. Prior to his arrival, Alaska had gone 0-21-1 against the Wolverines.
When he was hired by Penn State, Gadowsky's assignment was much the same. And if Michigan can be used as a yardstick, things are going pretty well. The Nittany Lions are already 3-2 against the traditional college hockey powerhouse.
"For us to be 3-2 against Michigan now - I'm very happy with where we are in the program," Gadowsky said.
The Nittany Lions finished their second season of varsity competition with an 8-26-2 record and a 3-16-1-0 mark in Big Ten play. They played seven of the 16 teams that qualified for the NCAA tournament and hosted all four No. 1 seeds at Pegula Ice Arena.
Their victories included a double-overtime win over the Wolverines in the quarterfinal round of the Big Ten tournament March 20 in Saint Paul, Minn., as well as 4-0 and 5-4 wins over Michigan during the regular season. The 4-0 shutout at the Pegula Arena on Feb. 8 was Penn State's first-ever Big Ten Conference victory. Their other Big Ten win was a 3-2 decision against Ohio State to conclude the regular season on March 15.
Sophomore goalie Matthew Skoff was in net for all eight of Penn State's victories. After compiling a 2.95 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage, Skoff is the No. 1 goalie on Penn State's squad heading into next season, Gadowsky said.
The 2013-14 season was a big year for Skoff, and as Gadowsky noted, he had to work hard for the opportunity. "It certainly wasn't given to him. He had to earn every bit. He did that in both performance in games and performance in practice."
Because the program is still in its infancy, there were a lot of firsts this season: the first night in Pegula Ice Arena, the first Big Ten game, first Big Ten win, first Big Ten tournament and first Big Ten tourney win.
For all the milestones, Gadowsky said it will be nice to focus more intently on the on-ice aspects of the program next season.
"I'm looking forward to being about hockey from the start and to not have a lot of other things diverting our attention," he said. "It make my job easier - getting the team on the same page, how you get players and the system to work all together in one way."
Skoff said the key will be to build on the successes of the past season. "The biggest thing for us as team is to remember all the lessons that we learned this year and how good we can play when we all play together," he said.
Gadowsky said the most remarkable individual stat on the team is David Glen's plus-3 for the season. "We have excellent hockey players who are minus-20, and he is the only plus player on our team," Gadowsky said. "We put him out specifically against teams' most explosive offensive players and he plays in the worst situations, he really should be one of the lowest plus-minus players on the team, and somehow he is the only plus player. [It's an] incredible statistic."
Making that figure even more impressive is the fact that Glen missed three games due to his involvement in a bone marrow transplant procedure.
Looking ahead, many Nittany Lion players will be staying in the State College area during the summer, including Skoff, who will be taking classes during both summer sessions, and Glen, who will be working out both on campus and back home in Edmonton, Alberta.
"A bunch of guys are staying," Skoff said. "It will be good to have group workouts."
Penn State graduates only one senior, forward Mike McDonagh. Everyone else is expected to be back, although Gadowsky cautioned that "you never know until end of the academic year."
Skoff said that with so many players returning next season, he's excited about the team's future. "The only way we can go from here is up," he said.