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Penn State Hockey: Gadowsky Set To Embark On Latest Chapter

on September 30, 2015 11:00 PM

One of the ceremonial shovels used to break ground for the Pegula Ice Arena still hangs on the wall inside Guy Gadowsky's surprisingly simple office.

A desk, some photos, a whiteboard and a seating area are all that fill the space. There isn't a lot of flash, and if not for Gadowsky's presence chances are you wouldn't have guessed the third most profitable sport on campus was led from this room.

Remove a building and some trees and the most eagled-eyed among us would be able to see James Franklin's own office out of Gadowsky's window. Two coaches trying to build a program out of very different living quarters.

To be sure, there is no right or wrong when it comes to office size and decor, but it is perhaps the best example of what hockey culture is. A sport more focused on its substance than its flash.

It's about loading up a van early in the morning before the sun rises to get to practice in the bitter cold. it's about extra time spent at the rink or ripping off wrist shots until the net in the driveway finally collapses. If soccer is so well loved because a ball and dirt are accessible nearly everywhere, hockey is nature's answer for the parts of the world where shorts and warm weather rarely come calling.

Even if there aren't 15 TVs on the wall, Gadowsky still produces two bottles of water out of a refrigerator, sits down, and remembers.

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In the months leading up to the 1994 Winter Olympics Gadowsky was cut from the Canadian national team. For a nation that so greatly prides itself in its love for the game, playing on the national team was one of the sport's greatest honors. To miss out on that could have been the death blow to his career on the ice.

But he kept playing. A few professional stints and the goal in mind to coach when that time finally came. The business world wasn't for him, that wasn't how his life was going to whistle by.

"I needed hockey so bad, my whole body just needed it," Gadowsky said. "So I knew I had to be a part of hockey."

In 1996 just two years after the Olympics (in which Canada finished second in a shootout) Gadowsky took his first coaching job. The first of four jobs prior to ending up at Penn State. It was during this time he learned what it truly meant to coach.

As a result, the coach you see now on the bench at Pegula is much different than the one you may have seen 20 years ago.

"I knew I was going to be a coach for at least a few years when I was still playing," Gadowsky said. "So I was ready to become a coach, so when that happened I thought "Oh man I'm the best coach, I have all this stuff going." And I learned very quickly that in a very short time that I knew nothing, even though I had been preparing for it for what seemed like so many years."

"I'm much more comfortable just being me, that's all I am. I'm done sort of trying to be other coaches, so I'm very comfortable being me."

The question now becomes if he turn Penn State hockey into the sum result of over two decades of learning. The program was created with one athletic purpose in mind. To win titles, to become a power in college hockey and to do it all with a sense of urgency in mind.

So far the answer appears to be yes. Penn State has at nearly light speed become a relevant force in the Big Ten conference. The Nittany Lions technically entered the final weekend of conference play with an outside shot to win the Big Ten title. It was an unlikely scenario in that final weekend, but the possibility still remained. All of this, not far removed from the days where observers and critics questioned if the program could even win games in the first few years of its existence.

And if Casey Bailey's time at Penn State was proof of anything, it was that yes, Penn State can be relevant in college hockey. And relevant fast.

The now Toronto Maple Leaf was as good as they come on the ice. His rocket shot and timely nature made him a legitimate weapon against any opponent. Some 22 goals and 18 assists later and Bailey was suddenly rated the top free agent prospect in the land. The alchemy that helped find this success? Beyond Bailey's own talent and hard work, a system that thrives on creativity and exciting team play. Gadowsky is more focused on letting players flourish in a system than trying to put a square peg in a round hole. The results speak for themselves, a team that while still steeply planted on the learning curve, has become so much fun to watch and so rarely outmatched by teams that should do so on paper.

"We are very much the extreme of allowing players to be creative," Gadowsky said on his approach to the game. "I think it's important because one of the things we've had success with are getting guys to the NHL that are free agents. Guys who don't have that logo next to their name (drafted before college) but players who have come to our program and develop and have very successful careers as free agents in the NHL. That's something that we are very proud of."

"It was nice that our staff when we were at Princeton, a general manager came out in writing and said that Princeton is the best kept secret in NHL development, which was phenomenal. It's also really fun to watch and it's also designed to showcase what people can do and to develop their individual skills and help them at the next level rather than simply playing our system. At the next level you're always looking for very good habits, you're not really looking for how you can execute a system because they're going to be doing a lot of different things."

The more immediate challenge now is finding players to fill that creative role. As Penn State's time in the NCAA continues it will require winning battles against big name college powers. In the first few years of recruiting Penn State essentially picked up what it could. Now as the program's recruiting window widens there are more established programs on the trail with them. Gadowsky isn't too concerned but the need is clear and the obstacles are equally as apparent.

This challenge is best seen prior to the game on the lineup sheet. A collection of names and line parings that also include the simple biographical information for players as well their NHL affiliate who drafted them. Penn State has a small stable of NFL draftees but not as many as the rest of sports' major powers.

"We do the same thing, it's dangerous," Gadowsky said with a smile. "It's hard not to do that when we look at that as coaches, we get the lineup sheet too before the games and you see all these logos and you'll see every NHL logo under the sun."

But above everything else Gadowsky is confident. Confident in himself and his staff, the program and most importantly his players. At this point he has everything he needs. He has facilities, he has buzz and he financial support.

Now he just needs one more thing.

"Time," he said bluntly when asked about the missing piece to the puzzle. "We're missing successful NHL graduates, we're missing success on a national level, we're missing recruiting against top programs. We're missing time, we need time. It doesn't happen like that. It certainly doesn't happen like that in the Big Ten. You're always facing the Minnesotas and Michigans and Michigan States. We're really building our foundation but it takes time. We need time."

"It's really exciting. It's something that this coaching staff takes a lot of pride in. The little things that we can see that sometimes don't show up. It might happen at practice it might happen off the ice. It might happen in games where we might even lose but the coaching staff will come in and be like "man we got it". We turned that corner in that aspect of our game. There have been times where we lost but the coaching staff was absolutely giddy."

At some point Penn State will start making the next steps on to the national stage. The Nittany Lions are an extremely competitive program already, but the gap between where they are and where they want to be is noticeable. That's simply the nature of the beast.

But it's hard to ignore the excitement that pumps though the halls of the Pegula Ice Arena. It's a palpable sense that something special is growing slowly but surely.

If and when it gets here? Only time will tell.

But it makes sense why Gadowsky's office is so simple.

He has hockey. And it's clear that aside from family, that's all he really needs.

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