Getting You Caught Up: Penn State Hockey

*Editor’s Note*

With Penn State hockey getting closer and closer we wanted to take some time to keep you up to speed with everything going on around campus. While VBR’s coverage of hockey will increase with the arrival of the season, we turned to the internet’s go-to for all things Penn State hockey for this update. Kyle has been a great asset for every Penn State hockey fan and you should be sure to check out his site here.

Are you excited about Penn State’s coming NCAA men’s hockey team but unable to keep up with things since the announcement of Terry and Kim Pegula’s $88 million donation last September? Amidst the never-ending PSU sports news cycle where even the month of June is fair game for hiring a basketball coach or announcing football games with Pitt, that’s perfectly understandable. And it’s why I’m here – to quickly bring you up to speed on the program’s progress in some key areas.

Recruiting

I won’t list every single recruit to date, but (shameless plug alert) I maintain a page on Thank You Terry with capsules on each known incoming player, so I encourage you to take a look over there to familiarize yourself our 2011 and 2012 recruiting classes.

College hockey recruiting, quite plainly, is difficult to follow. The major recruiting sites don’t cover it. There are no stars, no hat dances on ESPNews and very little knowledge of offers before acceptance. Tracking commits is based mostly on press releases from junior teams and leagues (who like to brag about college placement) and word of mouth – or word of internet, since it is 2011 after all. I can’t even definitively tell you that my list is exhaustive, as there are almost certainly others who simply aren’t out there right now. Basically, the whole thing is what I assume football and basketball recruiting was like 25 years ago.  Someone named Chris Heisenberg keeps a spreadsheet of recruiting activity, which is a handy reference for most situations, although it won’t be as up-to-date as paying close attention to your team of choice.

As you might have guessed, this also makes evaluating recruiting tricky. I can’t tell you PSU’s average star rating and how that compares with others. Willingly or not, one has to take things from a more holistic perspective. Where is the recruit playing (the USHL is the only Tier I Junior A league in the U.S. and is generally accepted as the best answer, although certainly not the only viable one)? How successful is he and what accolades has he earned (obviously)? How old is he (a 16-year-old finding success against 20-year-olds is more impressive than the other way around)? What’s his offer list (if known)? Is he a good fit for the program, in terms of personality and style of play (most seem to be so far)?

Luke Juha, a defenseman from Mississauga ON, will be taking his talents to Happy Valley.

When Penn State’s 2011 recruiting got underway, Icers assistant Josh Hand had a leading role in delivering several low-DI quality players. That’s nothing short of phenomenal when you consider that the identity of the head coach – and even whether Hand would be involved with the program – were unknowns at the time. What ends up happening with these guys and the current Icers is anyone’s guess right now, but in the short term none of the 2011 recruits should have issues making the 2011-12 team and hopefully helping PSU win an eighth ACHA national championship on the way out of the club hockey door.

Since taking the reins of the program in April, Guy Gadowsky, along with assistants Keith Fisher and Matt Lindsay, have raised things to another level. Particular attention has been given to Canadian Jr. A leagues (three commits are from Gadowsky’s hometown of Edmonton, AB) and to players who have won something, which will hopefully create a winning culture in the program from day one. He’s also brought in a pair of transfers from programs in the WCHA, which is to college hockey as the SEC is to college football (until the pending conference realignment apocalypse, anyway).

With all of that in mind, and in my estimation, 2012 recruits Mark Yanis, Luke Juha and Reed Linaker may be the standouts of the group so far. Yanis spurned advances from Michigan and Minnesota, among others, and could very well become Penn State’s first-ever NHL Entry Draft selection next year (in hockey, being drafted doesn’t cost your amateur status). Juha and Linaker both wore the Canadian sweater in the prestigious World Jr. A Challenge last year, and both have been statistically dominant in their leagues. Linaker was nearly a Wisconsin Badger, while Juha was committed to Clarkson until a recent coaching change.

Pegula Ice Arena

For the most part, things have been pretty quiet of late with respect to the arena since March, when Mortenson Construction was selected to bring the design of Crawford Architects and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson into reality. Groundbreaking is still set to take place early next year for its fall 2013 opening, and it’s probably fair to assume that official renderings will become public closer to then.

Those inside the program have seen the latest though and the early reviews are raves. Gadowsky also teased the rest of us by showing off a possible look at the exterior last month.

According to other leaks that have emerged, expect the 6,000-seat interior to consist of a single-level horseshoe shape with suites around the top. A steeply-inclined student section of about 800 bleacher seats will fill in the open end of the horseshoe behind the net the opposing goalie will guard in the first and third periods.

Conference and Scheduling

As I’m sure you know by now, Penn State’s Big Ten membership will extend to hockey beginning in 2013-14 (Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio State are the other conference schools with men’s hockey programs). And as you may know, or at least could have guessed, potential broadcasting revenue through the Big Ten Network was one of the driving forces behind the creation of Big Ten hockey.

Because of this last fact, most expect Big Ten scheduling to be somewhat unconventional in order to maximize the number of televised hockey games. While most teams sprinkle a few non-conference games throughout the schedule, the Big Ten’s 20 conference games per team (four per opponent, two at each team’s rink) will be largely backloaded to avoid bumping up against football season. College hockey’s standard Friday night-Saturday night weekend set is also in line for some tinkering, to minimize conflicts with basketball – reportedly each school has already been asked to play two Monday night games per season.

The Big Ten has already determined its conference tournament format as well. The bottom four seeds (3 vs. 6 and 4 vs. 5) will play best-of-three series at the higher seed’s rink. The following weekend, the first-round winners will meet the first and second seeds in the single-elimination semifinals and final, which takes place at the top seed’s home venue.

Before all of that, Penn State will be playing the 2012-13 season as a Division I independent and out of the current Ice Pavilion. In that season, PSU will cobble together a schedule that includes four games against the U.S. National Team Developmental Program (the NTDP plays mostly a USHL schedule and is sort of a centralized training ground for elite U.S. prospects and hopefully a source of numerous future recruits), as well as possible games with schools like Connecticut, Holy Cross, Army, Air Force, Rochester Institute of Technology, Alabama-Huntsville, Princeton and Cornell. A tentative agreement has been reached for two games at Wisconsin as well.

What’s next?

Since it’s July, the news right now mostly consists of a steady stream of commits. This of course is building towards the fall, when the 2011 recruiting class – much larger than the group of departing Icers seniors from last season – has the potential to make life difficult of a number of regulars come tryout time (just as the 2012s, whose numbers probably depend on how much Gadowsky likes what he was given, might next year). Those who make it will face what’s looking more and more like a weak schedule relative to the strength of the team, consisting of just two games against varsity programs (Division III powers Neumann and Fredonia in November) and roughly 12 against teams that would lose to a “usual” Icers squad by at least six.

More important than the expected regular season dominance will be observing how Gadowsky handles the team. Who does he play, and in which situations? What are the line combinations and defense pairings? Even a blowout against Rutgers might provide insight for 2012 and beyond.

Penn State’s ACHA swan song will be at the national championship tournament, March 3-7, 2012 in Strongsville, OH, just outside of Cleveland.

From that point on, PSU will truly be a varsity hockey program in every sense of the word. I, for one, can’t wait.

Topics: College Hockey, Penn State, Penn State Hockey

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