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Penn State Hockey: 172 Games Later, A Big Moment Awaits In 173

by on March 16, 2017 1:00 AM

The golf course is basically empty, a rarity for the middle of summer in State College, but a voice from behind a collection of pine trees shouts towards Guy Gadowsky.

"Guy! How are you?" a man yells. A wave of the club as he tees up his next shot.

Gadowsky shouts back, both men exchanging pleasantries before hitting in opposite directions. Gadowsky's shot finds the green, the other travels off somewhere into the distance.

Ask him then and Gadowsky would tell you that Penn State was in for a rebuilding year. Uncertainty in goal, nearly a dozen new faces to work into a roster that had lost Casey Bailey to the NHL. It wouldn't be for a lack of effort, but the Nittany Lions seem poised to take a small step backwards. Perhaps an inevitable step back following early years of continual progress.

So on that muggy day in the middle of summer, Gadowsky was planning for a process, not history.

Many months later and nothing has gone to according to that plan. There was no rebuilding, just more moving forward. No drop in quality, just improved skill. No freshman slumps, just freshman leaders.

For those reasons and many others Penn State now finds itself a win away on Thursday night from potentially locking up the program's first-ever NCAA Tournament bid. The Nittany Lions will fittingly take on Michigan, a program that has been at the crossroads of most of Penn State's meaningful moments. The first Big Ten Tournament win, one of the first upsets, first sweeps; despite a relativity short history the Penn State/Michigan series has brought the best out of both teams.

The Nittany Lions have played 172 games at the Division I level, finishing up their fourth season at Pegula Ice Arena carrying a multi-year sellout streak with it. There has been no shortage of drama over those five year as a Division I program, no shortage in calling the next game the biggest one ever, no shortage in the unexpected. 

But in truth, game 173 will be the biggest yet. If nothing else, one that will be remembered no matter the outcome. A moment fans will savor or one that they will painfully remember as a moment of "almost."

"Everybody understands that we have a really great opportunity that we have the possibility of making the tournament either by winning the Big Tens or as an at-large (team)," Gadowsky said earlier this season. "To be in a position to make the tournament, it's not a given, so for the freshmen and sophomores to sit back and say, 'Yeah, we'll learn the lesson and we're going to apply it down the road,' -- no. We've got an opportunity now; we want to take advantage of this now."

It's a stark change from those expectations a few putts and wayward drives ago. On that day Gadowsky was embracing the unknowns, slightly lamenting the addition of Notre Dame in 2017-18 as no easy win in a death trap of a conference.

So it's no wonder that his tune has changed to the fierce urgency of now. Perhaps that message coming between the lines at times, but no less apparnt. Penn State has a chance to make history, and nobody knows when history will come knocking again.

In truth there is a slight chance that Penn State will make the tournament without winning on Thursday. In many ways it would be fitting symmetry after Penn State's first game at the Division I level was an overtime loss.

But whatever the case might be Gadowsky will be preparing for much higher expectations this summer when he hits the course again.

And hoping that voice calls out again from behind the trees, this time offering congratulations for making history.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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