Penn State Hockey: Despite Possible NHL Future, Max Gardiner Focused on Building Foundation at PSU
While the walls and corridors of the Pegula Ice Arena are still being built only a stone's throw away, the hum of the Zamboni, the sights, the sounds and the sometimes overwhelming smells of a growing hockey culture are alive and well inside Greenberg Ice Pavilion.
Sitting on a bench after practice, sophomore forward Max Gardiner chatted with a few of his teammates, long stretches of road trips have helped build great chemistry among them. Much like the brotherhood of the sport of hockey, Gardiner and his teammates are a tightly knit group.
"Everything about it," Gardiner, the Minnesota transfer, said when asked about why he chose Penn State. "When I came out here for my visit, everything from the coaching staff to the players, the facilities, the campus, the education. Everything is top of the line. It made it a really easy decision and made me really excited about it."
Like some of his teammates, Gardiner, a Deephaven, Minn., native has spent time in the junior leagues. Gardiner played for the Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL) before making his way to the University of Minnesota. In 2010, Gardiner was selected by the Saint Louis Blues in the third round of the NHL Draft. He is the first player drafted into the NHL with ties to Penn State.
Where some may find the added pressure and expectations of playing college hockey as an NHL prospect daunting, Gardiner is happy to play his game, a game which has put him first on the team with seven assists and third in total points.
"I just try to go out there and give the team whatever they need to get wins," Gardiner said. "For me, I feel like I got off to a pretty good start [this season]. I've been fortunate to play with players that are good at putting the puck in the net. I'm just trying to make plays."
While the NHL lockout has turned some fans toward college hockey in the absence of the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins or Philadelphia Flyers, it has touched close to Gardiner's home. His brother, Jake, a second-year defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs who saw playing time in 75 games last season, is waiting for brighter days.
Currently playing for the Toronto Marlies, an AHL affiliate of the Maple Leafs, Jake is still wishing his younger brother of two years all the best.
"I don't think so," Max Gardiner said of any possible sibling rivalry having faced off on the ice while Jake played at Wisconsin. "We both want each other to do really well. I'm really happy for him and where he is, and I know he's happy for me and my success. Growing up, we've always pushed each other to get better, and it has been a really good thing for both of us."
As far as Gardiner's future, his focus is on Penn State.
"[The Blues] talk to me every couple weeks," Gardiner said. "They keep in touch and see how things are going, but my focus right now is Penn State and becoming a better player and helping out the team and building a foundation to become a really good hockey program here."