It is hard to believe that Penn State men’s ice hockey has been a Division I NCAA program for six seasons already. What is even harder to believe would be just how much this program has grown since entering as an independent during the 2012-2013 season, before moving to the newly formed Big Ten conference a season later.
Penn State may be typically referred to as “Happy Valley,” but within the campus has arisen “Hockey Valley,” one of the most unique college hockey cultures in the nation. The Nittany Lions rank fifth nationally in average home attendance. In addition, Penn State is one of only three teams which fill beyond max capacity, on average, in college hockey, and is the only such team which ranks in the top 20 in average attendance. Beyond that, Pegula Ice Arena is home to the “Roar Zone,” already regarded as one of the rowdiest student sections in the sport during its brief existence.
While Penn State is “packing the Peg,” they are also showing serious improvement on the ice as well. Even in a sport like college hockey, which is still certainly in a developmental stage, with only 60 teams currently at the Division I level, it is no small feat to ascend to a blue blood status in only six seasons. That is exactly what coach Guy Gadowsky has done with the Nittany Lions.
Penn State already has an NCAA tournament appearance these past two seasons under its belt, along with a 2016 Big Ten Tournament Championship. The Nittany Lions haven’t picked their foot off the gas this season either. Penn State has been ranked in the top ten of the USCHO poll every week, except for the initial release of the rankings.
The success of Penn State’s program has even begun translating to the professional level. Currently, the only Nittany Lion to appear in the NHL is right winger Casey Bailey, who spent time with both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators. However, there are currently four players on the Nittany Lions active roster who have been drafted by NHL teams: Nikita Pavlychev, Evan Barratt, Aarne Talvitie and Denis Smirnov.
Talvitie and Barratt have also been called to represent Finland and the United States, respectively, in the upcoming IIHF World Juniors Tournament – a competitive showcase for some of the most promising young talent looking to launch their professional hockey careers. They will be the first Penn State players to attend the tournament.
As the Penn State hockey program continues to develop, there is no doubt it is headed in the right direction. The generous donations of Terrance Pegula have launched a non-NCAA side into one of the most exciting and fastest-growing programs in the country, and the journey is only just beginning.
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