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Penn State Hockey: Nittany Lions Forge Ahead, One of the Rare Teams to End Their Season with a Win

by on April 03, 2020 4:07 PM

Penn State men's hockey coach Guy Gadowsky is sitting in his room alone with nothing but his thoughts midway though Thursday morning.

There is a pause as he looks blankly at a virtual collection of reporters, he can't make eye contact with anyone because the camera doesn't allow it, but if he could, those eyes would tell you the same thing so many others have.

This has sucked.

For Gadowsky his story is much like his fellow coaches across the country. One minute everything was normal, the next, the season was over. In the case of Penn State hockey, the Big Ten was the last conference to cancel its league tournament but the writing was still on the wall.

Not long after the eventual cancelation, any hopes of playing in Allentown and playing in the NCAA Tournament were gone too, just like that it was a team scattered to the wind. No real goodbyes, no real group hug. It just ended.

“This was such a great year with such great guys, and I don’t think I’ve started turning the page yet,” Gadowsky said to break the pause, trying ever still to feel forward thinking. “You always have to look down the path, you have to.”

In the case of Penn State there is a confusing duality to the season's end. On the one hand the Nittany Lions finished the year with a win in one of the season's more dramatic games and in turn would ultimately clinch a Big Ten regular season title in the process. Of all the ways for a season to end, this was among the best ways it could have gone.

At the same time, the Nittany Lions were building confidence and finding their swagger again as perhaps the most talented team the program has ever assembled and just a few weeks from the postseason. Relative to a collection of talent, it was an opportunity lost for Penn State to try and forge a path to its first-ever Frozen Four. 

There had been ups and down, winning streaks and seemingly season-ending losing skids. When it was all said and done, the Nittany Lions still had more points than anyone else in the Big Ten and as much of a puncher's chance to make a run at a national title as anyone among the field of 16.

It was a strange year, but as a the banner rises above the rink at Pegula Ice Arena, nobody will remember any of that, just the end result.

“This year the anticipated challenges didn’t really materialize,” Gadowsky said. “It was different challenges."

The challenge now is to move on, but towards what is a question yet to be answered. Penn State's team is across the globe from Finland to Canada and everywhere in between, there is an uncertainty to what next season might hold if it happens at all. While eyes are focused on the college football season, there is a truth that goes hand-in-hand with with it: if football season doesn't happen, neither is anything else.

Right now those are conversations for another day as Gadowsky and his staff pick up all the loose ends of a season both complete and incomplete. There are video sessions with players, conversations with incoming freshman who will most likely arrive on campus late. There is nothing for certain, which makes planning for anything all the more difficult.

“Our plan is to proceed as if all is going to follow the schedule it normally would,” Gadowsky said. “Once people way above my pay grade make decisions, I’m sure we’ll get the information right away, but until then, we’re just going on status quo.”

In the meanwhile Gadowsky will wait, and maybe try to enjoy life as one of the few teams in the country that got to end its season with a win.

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