Penn State men’s hockey ended a disappointing season with one heartbreaking loss to top-seeded Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament. Now, as he picks up the pieces, head coach Guy Gadowsky is focusing on building a bridge to build the team’s culture back to where it was before the pandemic.
The head coach believes the team is capable of playing its best hockey when it matters most, just like its upset over Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament, because of the culture that the team has built from the ice. Although it looks like the team’s morale was hit by the pandemic, Gadowsky says he’s pleased with the progress so far.
“We’re really proud of the steps the team took in terms of a cultural aspect, and they worked really hard,” Gadowsky said. “Paul [DeNaples and the leadership group] deserves a lot of credit for that. The new players also understood the importance of it … But you never say “OK, it’s done.”
Speaking about how a team culture manifests itself on the ice, Gadowsky said he believes the standards the team sets both individually and for each other in the locker room are transferred to its chemistry on the ice. Although Gadowsky is optimistic about the culture getting better during the high season, he also knows that it is not a guarantee. In fact, he tells his players that it can change for the worse if they do not go up.
“You recognize that we have come a long way, but it can also go fast,” he said this week. “The players understand that, and now it’s a question of whether they continue the building rather than just standing still. You’re improving or you’re going the other way.”
But as the culture aims to continually improve, Penn State will get a big hit with the loss of Adam Pilewicz, who is set to move on from the program after using his remaining entitlement.
“I think he’s the first player we’ve ever won [Team Culture Award] twice, and with very good reason, ”Gadowsky said. “It’s a landmine we have to keep an eye on because he was so good and I hope other players take that slack.”
As leaders like Pilewicz and Clayton Phillips leave the team, Gadowsky believes the pressure will be specifically seen on the growing juniors in the program. The duo’s departure opens up an opportunity for Jimmy Dowd Jr. to rise to the occasion and become a true leader on the team.
“I’m very optimistic about him specifically,” Gadowsky said. “He’s not the only one, but that class … they are the examples next year. So I think there will be a lot of pressure on them for the first time, culturally.”
Gadowsky elaborated on how the pandemic affected him, in addition to the team’s culture, which is something he has not mentioned publicly all season. COVID-19 restrictions hampered some efforts to bond as a team or find success off the ice.
“Last year there was a lot of doubt,” he said. “I did not enjoy myself. I was not part of the culture. That year was the first time I did it [felt like I’ve] gone to work for 25 years … Even the things you did that you thought were small really count, and when you do not get them done, you see the negative results. ”
Now that the season is over, Gadowsky went on to say that despite Penn State’s trophy case not growing, the 2021-22 campaign was a good learning experience for him as a coach. He explained that seeing the negative results of his actions reinforced that what he did before the pandemic was instrumental in building the team’s culture from within.
DeNaples, the team captain, says Penn State needs to stay sharp during the low season to ensure the Nittany Lions do not lose any progress they have made toward rebuilding the coveted culture.
“We’re still maintaining team culture and friendship off the ice, and that’s the best we can do to prepare for next year,” DeNaples said.
As for how the team culture is translated on the ice, the returning captain said it’s about trust.
“It’s a responsibility, and that’s what matters,” he said. “Outside the ice, the guys are doing the right things and coming together, so I have confidence that no matter what players [are on the ice] I can trust the ice is not messing up and they will do the same on the ice. “