Guy Gadowsky has a track record of turning losing programs into winning programs, first at Alaska and then at Princeton.
But Gadowsky faces a different challenge as Penn State commences its first season as a Division I hockey program. Basically, the Nittany Lions are an expansion team.
“We’re an expansion team but without draft choices,” Gadowsky quipped. “But the experience I’ve had is going to help a lot. That’s why they felt comfortable bringing me in here. It’s easier to go to a place like Alaska or Princeton even though they’re established programs that haven’t had a lot of success.
“I look back at why we were successful at Alaska and Princeton and there were commonalities in building a foundation. Every coach is impatient but you have to be realistic. Next season is going to be more difficult jumping into the Big Ten [PSU will play as an independent this season]. That’s going to be a real challenge in how we view our progress and success.”
Saying “jumping into the Big Ten,” which will include Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio State as well as PSU, is going to be a challenge is like saying ice is hard.
“We’ll be playing arguably the best teams in the nation,” Gadowsky said. “I have great respect for those programs. I’ve taken teams against those programs and have been waxed. However, that’s why you come to Penn State, to get a chance to compete against the very best.
“Penn State has great support and resources for the athletic programs. If we didn’t want to compete against the very best, we wouldn’t be here. That being said, I fully understand how difficult a task that is.
“It’s a challenge that not only the coaching staff and our administration accepts, but also the players,” Gadowsky continued. “They want the challenge of having to build this program against top competition.”
Penn State faces a challenge this season considering its schedule includes games against teams like Union, Holy Cross, Rochester Institute of Technology, Vermont, Michigan State and Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions open at home against American International on Oct. 12.
“When you come from a club team, any Division I team is a huge step up,” Gadowsky said. “RIT, for example, has an excellent program. You look down and see Michigan State and Wisconsin. I have respect for those programs.
“If we were going to judge progress through wins and losses, I would say our schedule isn’t that tough. But it’s more important to do things right. We might be taking short steps backwards for the future. If we’re committed to that process, wins and losses aren’t that important. We’re going to judge our progress on how we build our foundation.
“Wins will be a by-product of how well we do that job over the next few years. We would rather build a solid foundation instead of stealing a game,” Gadowsky continued. “I played in the WCHA and coached in the CCHA. You can’t come in on a wing and a prayer and expect to compete successfully.”
Gadowsky and his staff do have players with college experience: Forwards Justin Kirchhevel (Alaska-Anchorage), Bryce Johnson (St. Cloud State) and Max Gardiner (Minnesota) plus defensemen Taylor Holstrom (the Atlantic Hockey rookie of the year two seasons ago at Mercyhurst) and Nate Jensen (Mercyhurst) have transferred.
“I think it’s an expectation that guys with college experience will help, but it’s not limited to them,” Gadowsky said. “That’s why it’s important for our staff to have come in last year [when PSU was a club team]. We found we had great leadership from others. We certainly will rely on transfers but it’s not limited to them.”
The latter players to which Gadowsky referred include forwards Tommy Olczyk, George Saad, Eric Steinour, Mike Longo and Michael McDonagh plus defenseman Richie O’Brien.
“Tommy will play a huge role in building the foundation,” Gadowsky said. “He has a great work ethic and is 100 percent committed to the program. He has a 4.0 GPA and encompasses everything we’re trying to do here.
“The guys that stood out last season know what it takes to be a successful student-athlete at Penn State. They’re totally committed to the foundation we’re trying to build.”