Three Rivers Classic: Penn State Enjoying Success Entering Tournament


Fourth-year Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky (center) gives instructions in a game last year. The Nittany Lions are off to their best start in program history entering the Three Rivers Classic. (Photo: Penn State Athletics)

(Editor’s Note: Penn State alumnus Ross Insana is assisting City of Champions in covering the upcoming Three Rivers Classic college hockey tournament.)

by Ross Insana

Guy Gadowsky continuously stresses his philosophy to stick to “the process,” but even he did not foresee his Nittany Lions to be in this position as arguably the biggest surprise of the first half of the college hockey season.

One might think it is the continuity the team brought into the season with only one player, Mike McDonagh, leaving due to graduation and adding three new freshmen. Gadowsky believes it has been his team’s ability to improve a little in a lot of areas of their game.

“We wanted make sure we improved and that’s still our goal,” said Gadowsky. “I didn’t know if that was going to turn into wins or not, but because it has it says that we have a team that retained a lot of what they learned last year and sometimes that’s not the case.”

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Carrying a 9-4-2 record, Penn State has already eclipsed their win total from last season in only 15 games and currently sits atop the Big Ten standings for the first time in program history. It has also been three weeks since they swept Wisconsin in Madison and vaulted into the USCHO national poll at No.20; another achievement for the third-year program.

Led by Taylor Holstrom and Casey Bailey, who are tied for the Big Ten conference lead in points with 18, the Nittany Lions offense ranks sixth in the country with 3.47 goals per game and tops in the nation at nearly 40 shots per game. The two of them alongside David Goodwin have combined to create the Nittany Lions’ most consistent line.

Of the 52 Nittany Lion goals scored this season, 15 of them have been by way of at least two of the three collecting points. The three of them as a whole have produced 36 points in those 12 games together; Holstrom with two goals and 12 assists, Bailey with seven goals and six assists and Goodwin with five goals and four assists.

The root of their success during the first half of the season has to do with not only their synergy together as a line, but Holstrom’s defensive prowess.

“He’s just been so good defensively that it’s really allowed them to take advantage of offensive situations,” said Gadowsky. “They are a very creative line right now and I really think one of the reasons is that just been so good defensively that it’s really allowed them to be a lot more creative offensively and been results because of it.

In Bailey’s case, his 10 goals on the season have produced flashbacks of his scoring touch from his 2012-13 freshman campaign where he put the puck in the net with confidence. The junior has grown as both a hockey player and an athlete, leading to his strong offensive output.

Despite the team’s success, Penn State has had to battle some adversity with a number of key contributors like Holstrom, Eric Scheid, David Glen, Zach Saar and Dylan Richard missing time due to injuries. Even Gadowsky recently underwent knee surgery himself.

Because of that “next man up” mentality they have had to play with, the team has benefited from production out of two-way character guys, something that has become a norm for the program. This includes freshman James Robinson and Scott Conway and especially the all-around play of Richard.

“He’s so good anywhere,” said Gadowsky about Richard. “He’s such a total hockey player that he’s just so versatile. With our record early in the year, he’s been so important because with the injuries we’ve had, anytime we’ve had a big hole he’s been able to fill it.”

For Robinson and Conway, both have transitioned well to the collegiate game after strong careers in the USHL and have been what the coaching staff had hoped they would be.

“It’s tough to come in and really feel comfortable right away and I do expect them to get better, “said Gadowsky. “To this point, we did get what we asked for out of both of them.”

With Robinson, Gadowsky has compared him to the likes of Richard and Glen due to his ability to excel in all three zones of the ice and his workman-like mentality.

“He’s a real identity type player and I can’t tell you how important those type of guys are”, said the head coach about Robinson. “He’s as valuable in that type of role as you can get.”

Lastly, Pittsburgh native Matthew Skoff has picked up where he left off last season in net for Penn State. After taking the Nittany Lions to the brink of competing for a Big Ten title, the junior netminder has collected six of the team’s nine wins and has made for a formidable last line of defense.

“It’s a prerequisite for any good team. No matter how good your team is, if you don’t have that position playing well you’re going to be frustrated.”

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