Hey Hockey Valley, Get Ready to 'Roar into the Future!'
I was sitting in new men's ice hockey coach Guy Gadowsky's office in 110 BJC recently going over the myriad items on our plates as we continue to pour over design plans for the new Pegula Ice Arena and plan our move to NCAA men's and women's varsity hockey. Guy turned to me and said, "Can you believe it's August already?" I couldn't help but notice that his voice sounded both concerned (are we ready?) and giddy (like a kid ready to play his first game).
In my mind, all I could think about was that August brought about the end of my son Ryan's 10-year-old Little League all-star baseball team's tournament season (what a great bunch of kids and parents and coaches who "get it"), and that vacation was on the horizon and the start of another school year was just ahead. But you only have to be around Coach Guy for a few moments to realize this August was going to be different; there was going to be an extra level of high octane energy that has been a long time coming and that a new era in Penn State Hockey was just around the corner.
Guy is as energetic and passionate as anyone I have known in the game of hockey. He's also an incredibly honest and forthright person who commands respect, and he works as hard as anyone I have ever met. His assistant coaches, Keith Fisher and Matt Lindsay, are cut from the same mold. I haven't gotten to know Coach Fisher and Coach Lindsay as well as I would like because, quite frankly, they are always on the road recruiting. They have such passion for what they do that it makes those of us who have waited so long to see the ice hockey program get its shot at the big time become even more excited and even more impatient. When do we drop the puck?
Across University Drive in the Greenberg Ice Rink is another suite of offices with another coach who exudes confidence, can promote Penn State in his sleep, and is equally as energetic, ethical and driven as Coach Gadowsky. He is my former player and colleague, our new women's head coach Josh Brandwene. He's found a house in the borough, moved in – along with his wife Leona (a PSU grad as well) and their daughter Sophie – and already traveled the land searching for the next Olympian or national team player who wants to help build our fledgling program into a national contender.
His assistant coaches, Mo Stroemel and Gina Kearns, are also rarely on campus as they, too, are out and about – or "oot and aboot," as our Canadian friends might say – also recruiting. I have actually met Coach Kearns only once. I hear from my hockey friends at Boston University that Gina, a Philadelphia native, was quite the player in her day, and she still holds all of BU's scoring records.
I can't wait for the season to get started so I can see these two staffs in action. The old Ice Pavilion will be a rocking place the next two years and we plan to send this now-30-year-old building out with a bang in this final season of ACHA hockey followed by our first varsity games of any kind since 1946 for the 2012-13 season. It will be just a little over two years and we will christen the new Pegula Ice Arena in the fall of 2013 and we will welcome college hockey powerhouses Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan State and Ohio State and many other prominent college hockey teams to "Hockey Valley" and the Big Ten Hockey Conference.
Hockey camps are now officially over. I actually skated in a staff scrimmage against the young guys and felt ... well ... really old and slow. I was really sore the next day with a large bruise on my arm from a slapshot that I was too slow to turn away from and, bang, it left a puck-sized black and blue mark on my arm. It may just be time to stick to the "Geezers and Wheezers" league.
Hockey camps were in the very capable hands of another new member of our hockey staff, former Icer standout Bill Downey, who we hired away from the Harvard hockey staff to return to his alma mater as director of hockey operations. Billy is another guy cut from the mold of the rink rat who is willing to put in long hours doing the thankless tasks that will help our staffs develop championship-caliber teams. Sorry, but I will always think of him as "Billy D." – one of my favorite players who I had the pleasure of coaching. It's great to have him back where he belongs as well.
We also hired another PSU alumn, Matt Caracappa, who played a little hockey in his days at PSU, to be the new assistant director of athletic communication and sports information director for men's hockey. Like Coach Kearns, he cut his teeth at perennial hockey power Boston University and prior to that worked for USA Hockey. We are excited to welcome Matt back as well.
Aside from my role as Little League cheerleader for the past three months, I have been busy trying to help keep all the moving parts working together to get the party started properly with our transition to a new era of Penn State hockey. There will be many firsts over the next three years: Coach Gadowsky and Brandwene's first games behind the bench at PSU; their first recruit classes (without going into detail I think we're going to be bringing in some terrific young student-athletes who are going to make you sit on the edge of your seats and jump up and shout); the groundbreaking ceremony for the Pegula Ice Arena; the first varsity hockey games since the 1940s in October 2012; and the grand opening of the Pegula Ice Arena in September 2013.
We had a chance to spend some time recently in the Buffalo Sabres offices with our benefactors, Kim and Terry Pegula. We showed them detailed updated plans for the ice arena that will bear their name. It will be a spectacular facility that will serve a broad spectrum of constituents and will serve as the gold standard for gifts to a university community as it will welcome students and townies alike, alums and visitors from across the state and throughout the country, and will make a significant economic impact on Happy Valley.
OK, so I am just a tad excited! Can you blame me? I have waited 32 years for this dream to come true – ever since I stepped on this campus as a freshman in 1978 sporting that stylish Afro that barely fit under my helmet.
I just returned from a trip to Chicago where I was able to play golf with a number of PSU grads and NHL stars including former Penguin and Flyer Rick Tocchet, current Blackhawk's forward Bryan Bickell (who routinely hit 350-yard drives), and former Hawk's standouts Ed Olczyk (whose son Tom starts this fall as a freshman at PSU) and tournament host Denis Savard. The evening included a recognition of NHL Hall of Famer Bobby Hull. Every person in attendance left the outing with an authentic Hull Blackhawks' jersey autographed by the "Golden Jet." A big thanks to my friends from Esmark for including me in such a special event.
Speaking of golf tournaments, this is where I sneak in the not so subtle plug for the annual Icer Open Golf tournament to be held on Sunday, Aug. 21, at the Penn State Blue Golf Course. It will be a chance to meet our new head hockey voaches and hang out with a bunch of old hockey folks who are fired up about the coming season. For more information call Marci Palmer at 814-863-2037 or register online here.
Regardless of whether you currently consider yourself a hockey fan, we hope you will give us a chance to show you what a great game college hockey is and that you will join us starting this fall as we "Roar into the Future!"