Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Preseason Previews: Penn State Still Too Many Unknowns

By Jessi Pierce
@jessi_pierce on Twitter

I know, I know, it seems predictable and I am sure you Nittany Lion fans have a thing or two to object to constantly being put at the bottom with so much to prove.

But that is exactly the reason I predict Penn State at the bottom of the Big Ten -- because there is just too much to prove with so many unknowns.

It's the team's first season in an organized NCAA conference against the big boys who have been doing it for decades. That's tough for any team to swallow.

Last year in its first Division I season, Penn State went a respectable 13-14 with notable wins over Michigan State and Wisconsin. But the rest of their schedule was fairly weak -- expected to ease the transition from ACHA to NCAA -- compared to what other B1G teams have faced in past years and jumping into that this year will be a large dose of Division I reality.

But it's not all grim of course for PSU this coming year.

Standouts on the squad include Tommy Olczyk, a junior and likely to lead the team, along with transfer Max Gardiner who already has experience on the Division I level as a former Minnesota Golden Gopher. Eamon McAdams (goalie from USHL's Waterloo Blackhawks) and Mike Williamson (defenseman from AJHL) total the number of NHL draft picks on the roster to four (along with Gardiner and RPI transfer Patrick Koudys), and I am anxious to see how they shake out.

But despite those names, like the team itself, the rest are still relatively unknown, in large part due to the fact Penn State hasn't been able to land some of the top recruits being so new to the DI market.

That said, I do have a lot of faith in Guy Gadowsky and the potential he sees in this program, and realistically it just is going to take some time for PSU to get the ice beneath their feet and their stride about them.

As Gadowsky told in a recent feature story:

“Night in and night out, the Big Ten will be extremely difficult,” he said. “But it’s fun, and that’s why you come to Penn State. The building will be ready in September and our first game is Oct. 11 [against Army], and then it’s on to the Big Ten schedule.

“There’s a lot of very exciting new things going on.”

Like any good sports journalist I do tend to root for the underdog and I would be more than happy to see Penn State prove me wrong, which they just might. Either way, I am excited to see how it pans out for the boys in blue and white and anxious to see where the move to in our mid-season previews.

Preseason Prediction: Bottom of Big Ten with a 12-22 regular season record

1 comment:

  1. Penn State may very well finish last - the great thing about this stuff is that you never know - but I don't think they will.

    I'm not going to sit here and claim that PSU should be up with Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan just yet. Those are programs that have national championship aspirations nearly every single year, and as homertastic as I can be, I realize we're not to that point.

    But Ohio State and Michigan State? I think people are being a bit too dismissive of PSU's 2-1-0 against those two last year (3-2-0 if you throw in UW), with neither of the wins being anything approaching a fluke. It's tougher in a conference, of course. Guy Gadowsky himself has told me that it will be difference with league points on the line. But it's *also* tougher when you have eight players on your roster who came to the school before the donation was announced just to play ACHA hockey, not to mention 10 true freshmen and a handful of others who were recruited after the donation but before. I'll never bag the ACHA guys, those are my roots with the program and they all acquitted themselves extremely well last year, but it wouldn't be crazy to call PSU the most improved team in the league just on that situation.

    The nature of being new means that no, we don't have any players right now who impressed people enough to land offers and commit somewhere four years ahead of time (that more or less would have been an impossibility given the time frame). But the guys we have are proven producers, leaders, winners and offer upside on both ends. David Glen was sort of a breakout star last year, but he's pretty typical of the qualities on the roster.

    But even in terms of pure horsepower, I really don't see where PSU lags behind MSU and OSU. NHL draft picks, junior accomplishments, college accomplishments...I look up and down all three rosters and see no reason to not place Penn State on their plane. On paper (yeah, I know), the Nittany Lions' goaltending will be as good as anyone in the conference. The defense, which was gashed by injuries last year, will have all hands on deck. Williamson should be a big part of things, but Mark Yanis has NHL potential and Luke Juha would have been drafted had he gone to the BCHL a year earlier (and not gotten hurt during his second and third years of eligibility). As mentioned, the forwards are a much more workmanlike group, but Casey Bailey is an elite sniper and Max Gardiner has progressed closer to his potential well beyond what he was at Minnesota according to people who saw him play in both places.

    Coaching? Obviously Lucia, Eaves and Berenson have won national championships. But Gadowsky is much more accomplished as a head coach than either Anastos or Rohlik - and he generally works on a short timeline. Princeton won a combined eight games in the two years before he showed up and had been to one NCAA tournament ever. In his 4th and 5th seasons, PU won 20 games and went to NCAAs each year, winning the league tournament in 2008. Detractors might say something about the ECAC at this point, but it's all relative. And he had Ivy League admissions, travel and schedule restrictions too. I think it was a harder job with less behind him than what he has at PSU.

    And of course, 2-1-0 with a worse team last year than what will be iced this year.

    I've gone on too long, so I'll put my cards on the table at this point: 16-16-2 (8-11-1 Big Ten). Someplace other than last, possibly as high as fourth. And at least one win somewhere versus the the top three :)