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Penn State Hockey: Nittany Lions Wrap Up Successful First Full Season Of Division I Play

by on March 26, 2014 2:00 PM

Penn State had the second toughest strength of schedule in all of Division I NCAA hockey this year. A schedule that gave the Nittany Lions few nights of rest in the program's first full season of Division I play. 

So to say Penn State was throughly tested in 2013-14 would be a slight understatement as the Nittany Lions faced nearly all of the nation's best on a regular basis.

Yet even with a schedule that would make most major college football program's blush Penn State stood tall against the test, falling 11 times in games decided by only a goal. Losing close games may seem to hardly be a measurement of success, but in a sport where the gap between two teams can be much wider, Penn State was simply a little more time and experience away from making the jump.

That's not to say the Nittany Lions were perfect, far from it. Failing to win 10 games after playing nearly 40 isn't a t-shirt in the making, but Penn State passed the eye test most of the season and played its best hockey at the end of the year. The result was a 4-7-1 record over the final month and a half of the season.

Simply put Penn State belonged on the ice nearly every night it played, but the Nittany Lions simply were still learning how to put together a puzzle that is 60 minutes of the high level hockey needed to win games. In the most basic of terms, it's impossible to say that Penn State hockey has stumbled out of the gate in its first full year of Division I play.

And that's the pervading feeling inside the Pegula Ice Arena as the season came to a close.

Nearly the entire roster will return for the 2014-15 season with plenty of talent headed into Happy Valley. For a program that gets almost 70-percent of its scoring from underclassmen, the end of the season feels more like a long nearly 200 day intermission rather than a program crawling its way towards the exit of a hellish season.

The record will change. Something that is equally likely as it is widely believed throughout Pegula.

"I'm really proud of how hard the guy worked to improve as vastly as they have," Gadowksy said on Tuesday. "They improved statistically and on scoreboard just being able to really play with teams and stick with them and win games at the end is a real testament to how well they’ve done."

The real test will start as the program moves forward. The Nittany Lions will continue to improve although the slope of the curve may shallow as the challenges become stiffer. But at large the program has gotten over what was perhaps the biggest question mark as the program made the switch to Division I. Could they even compete, let alone win games?

"We’re ahead in terms of performance<" Gadowsky said of his team and the program. " I know a lot of the talk was that we wouldn’t have a chance to win a conference game this year. I thought it would be a stolen game where we were outshot 55-17 and cam away with a 1-0 or 2-1 win. I thought we might do something like that one or two times but I didn’t expect us to play blow for blow with a lot of these great programs. I think the guys proved it when they played their game and performed at high level going blow for blow against some of the best teams in the nation."

From here, the Nittany Lions will work together in player-led practices until the season rolls around again. Captain Tommy Olczyk will enter what should be his third year of the captaincy with his team anxious to get back out on the ice to play another game that counts.

But until then, the Nittany Lions will just wait with a quiet excitment to see what Year Two at Pegula Ice Arena will bring.

"I'm probably going to go unplug that right after these interviews," Olczyk said of a timer in the locker room counting down to next season. "That's way to long to have to wait." 

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