This weekend, the Michigan State hockey team hosts the Penn State Nittany Lions for a pair of games. Penn State and Michigan State are both seeking their first B1G Conference victory (in regulation). Ben Jones from statecollege.com was kind enough to answer some of my questions on the Penn State hockey team.
1. Penn State was a successful club program, now making the adjustment to D1. What have been some growing pains for the program?
I think the biggest thing is really just getting used to the level of play. Penn State was technically a D1 program last season, but played a mixture of D1, Club and D3 programs along the way. So really this season is the first playing at a high level every single night. Penn State has talent, but playing against a club team is a lot different than playing against Minnesota. So the biggest growing pain has really been figuring out what it takes to get the job done. When you don't have many experiences to look back on it's a bigger hurdle than you might imagine.
2. What has the local response been to college hockey? Is it sustainable excitement or might the excitement die down once the program isn't so new?
State College is basically the halfway point in the state so there are plenty of Flyers and Penguins fans to be found. Pegula Ice Arena holds just over 6,000 and has basically been sold out every game. That doesn't always mean all 6,000 are there but it has been plenty full each home game. I think people understand the program is getting better and still young so as long as it continues to trend upward people are going to be happy and continue to support the team. Every thing is in place for Penn State to be a national power, it just has to get there first.
3. PSU only features 5 upper classmen. Are many of the struggles of the season attributable to youth?
Some of it is youth, but really the upper classmen don't have a whole lot more D1 experience than the young guys so it's really just a matter of learning together. Certainty the younger guys are in a different place mentally than maybe a 23-24 year old guy who has played some juniors but I wouldn't say that youth has really held the team back. If anything, some of the younger guys have had some of the better performances this season.
4. What are the strengths of the Nittany Lions that Spartan fans should be aware of?
Penn State works hard. They may not win a lot of games this year but they aren't going to make it easy for most of the teams they play. Considering they played the former No.1 in UMass Lowell well and held their own against Minnesota, it goes to show that effort can some times out perform talent. Penn State is always out to win the puck battles and the little things they can control and it has gone a long way for them this season. Penn State's goaltending has been solid this year as well.
Their numbers may not help that argument but Skoff and McAdam both have had outings that their play has kept Penn State in games. McAdam is a freshman and an Islanders' draft pick. He played his best games of the year against Minnesota this weekend. Skoff was the starter for the majority of last season and has been a dependable keeper every time he plays. I expect they split the series against Michigan State but Gadowksy really could go with either guy both nights without much hesitation. Skoff has more starts this year, but McAdam is finding his game nicely as well.
5. How long do you think it will take for Guy Gadowsky to get this program competitive for league titles/NCAA berths?