If there’s a dark cloud hanging over Happy Valley, you wouldn’t know it by talking to Penn State men’s hockey coach Guy Gadowsky.
Despite the flurry of negativity surrounding Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal, the Freeh Report implicating football coach Joe Paterno and administrators in a cover-up, and heavy punishment against the football program levied by the NCAA, Gadowsky’s views of the university and the future of his program are unchanged.
“In a strange sense, being here during this time has made me feel even stronger about the reasons why I came here in the first place,” Gadowsky said in a phone interview.
The circumstances surrounding the athletic department are less than ideal as the men’s and women’s hockey teams are about to embark on their first seasons in the Division I ranks, but Gadowsky has been emboldened by how the Penn State community has reacted to what he called “adversity.”
“It’s been different than anything I’ve experienced, but the one thing about the adversity everybody’s been going through, it makes you realize certain things,” Gadowsky said.
“It’s unfortunate the student body hasn’t gotten enough media attention because they are unbelievable, they really are. Going through this has made me realize, I knew they were great, but to see it first hand and how they respond to things makes me even more proud to be here. I have a lot of faith in them and have a lot of faith in how they’re going to support Penn State and Penn State athletics.”
– Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky
Penn State has made it clear that its other athletic programs should remain unaffected by the severe penalties levied against the football team, which included a $60 million fine, loss of scholarships and a four-year postseason ban.
The hockey program is likely further protected due to the financial commitment made by Terry and Kim Pegula. Construction of the state-of-the-art Pegula Ice Arena is already under way after the Pegulas upped their donation from $88 million to $102 million.
The building is expected to be completed by the fall of 2013, the first season of Big Ten hockey. Pegula has remained steadfast in his commitment to building the hockey program.
In a statement released through the university, Gadowsky said, “After speaking with Mr. Pegula, I can assure you that he — with me and our entire staff — is totally committed to building our varsity hockey program and supporting our student-athletes as we prepare to compete in Division I and the Big Ten.”
Gadowsky expressed that Pegula’s support couldn’t be more important.
“It’s wonderful to speak to him because he’s so committed to the vision he has about Penn State being a great hockey school and he’s doing everything he can to help us achieve that,” Gadowsky told USCHO. “His support is tremendous not only for the program, but it’s inspiring to me personally.”
Gadowsky said nothing has changed among his current players and recruits, despite the current situation in Happy Valley.
“Hockey is somewhat removed from it from a couple standpoints,” the former Princeton and Alaska head coach explained.
“I think [the players are] concerned, but I think they understand because a lot of them have been to campus, a lot of them understand the school as whole has been painted with a brush.”
Gadowsky admitted he has fielded some calls from concerned parents, asking him about his views on the situation and what it might mean for the hockey program. He said he has assured them the hockey team will remain unaffected.
When it comes to recruiting going forward, Gadowsky said the impact of the scandal and the fallout remains to be seen, but he remains optimistic.
“When [recruits] see how the student body and our athletics program is dealing with this going forward, I think it will mean even more to come here,” he said. “In a strange sense, it’s certainly not going to be immediate, but by the way Penn Staters deal with this, Penn State hockey will become even more attractive.”
The head coach said that despite recent events, there’s still a lot of good in the athletic department.
“[Outsiders] talk about changing the culture at Penn State,” Gadowsky said. “I don’t like that statement because the culture that we see at Penn State with the student-athletes and the student body, if you look at our compliance record, we’ve been the leaders in that and the shining star in that. I really disagree with that statement.”
While Penn State remains mired in controversy, Gadowsky believes the hockey team can be part of a new athletic tradition at the school.
“I think we have a great opportunity,” he said. “We’re part of a big team that is really rallying together to show the outside world what we’re really about. Certainly, for us being a new program to be a part of that is really exciting.”