Penn State Hockey: Captain Practices A Unique Wrinkle As The Season Approaches
Football practice starts months before the season.
Basketball practice starts six weeks before the opening tip.
Hockey practice? It starts six days before the puck is dropped.
That's right, for Division I hockey programs official team practices with a coaching staff cannot start until six days before the season begins. For a program like Penn State's, the offseason work by individuals and and practices organized by team captains will determine much of a team's early season success.
As far as leadership, the Nittany Lions return captain forward Tommy Olczyk alongside defenseman Nate Jensen and forward David Glen as assistant captains. All three players were selected through a team vote.
"It puts an added premium on the work ethic," Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said on Monday. "It also puts an added premium on your leadership because so much of the work that has to be done is done through captain’s practices.
"We’re very fortunate. You look at the leaders that we have, and I already mentioned Tommy Olyczk. (They) really understood very early on what it would take to be successful in the Big Ten and certainly the limited amount of time, two years, to lead up to it. It definitely, our schedule and our practice schedule, definitely puts a premium on leadership and I think we’re very fortunate in that category."
For the most part, the biggest difference between hockey and football is the period of time when preseason practices are held. Football's preseason practice mostly happens when school isn't in session. In the NCAA's eyes hockey starts at a time when players are just starting classes. It's an odd ruling given the same is true for basketball and many other fall sports, but it's a rule Gadowsky is willing to play along with.
"I think the idea behind it is to get more easily acclimated into academics," he says. "I’m certainly not going to speak against what the rules are for the NCAA. They have good reasons for it and I believe it’s based around academic acclimation."
As far as a change in the rule?
"Trust me, there’s no hockey coach in the country that thinks that’s the way it should be. It’s just the way it is and we have to work with what we have"
Captains running practices isn't completely unheard of though. Tim Frazier has run practices for men's basketball and other sports have done the same. Even so, it's a unique situation to be in as the team looks to start off on the right foot, or rather the right skate.
"Tommy (Olczyk) and I do the captain practices," Jensen says. "We can’t skate with coaches until October so we are just getting the team ready and doing the little things, our foundation, back checking, just that kind of stuff. We are just getting the team ready for when coaches takes over."
"We have basic principles that we work on that come from the coaches that are kind of the foundations to our game," Glen says. "And we try to come up with drills that suit that and try to bring the new guys in and make them learn the principles on which we play before the coaches get there."
"Just starting last week we got 40 minutes Monday, Wednesday and Friday. One or two of the coaches will come out with us and they’ll actually run those practices and then they’ll give it over to the captains and we’ll usually do a little conditioning on those days. Tuesday and Thursday have pretty much been workout days. We have a team lift every Tuesday at two o’clock. Thursday we have optional lifts. But for the most part I’m pretty sure everyone is getting in there. We have a pretty consistent schedule and I think it’s going really well."
So if you're a Penn State hockey fan and the Nittany Lions look good coming out of the gate, you can thank the coaches; and the players too.