Yawn. Another Thanksgiving, another dominant season, another top ranking; it’s beginning to get boring waiting until March. The Penn State Icers (surprise, surprise) are the best team in the country as the 2011-2012 American Collegiate Hockey Association season begins to heat up.
This one, though, has special meaning. More on that later. Most recently, the Icers earned a home-and-home split last weekend with the Delaware Blue Hens. The teams entered the set holding the top two spots in the country – the former as No. 1 in the nation and the latter tabbed as the second-ranked squad – and held them respectively as of the latest national rankings which were released on November 20.
In Newark on Friday night, the score was tied 2-2 entering the third period but Delaware found the back of the net only 22 seconds into the stanza. Another Blue Hens tally near the midpoint of the session gave the hosts a two-goal edge, a lead which they leaned on via a stifling defensive effort to keep PSU at bay throughout the remainder of regulation. Rich O’Brien, a junior defenseman, scored inside the final minute, but it wasn’t enough and the Icers suffered their first loss by a final score of 4-3.
Back in University Park, 25 hours later, new head coach Guy Gadowsky gave the start to freshman goaltender P.J. Musico. The “California Kid” performed just as he has all season – with excellence. Musico made 21 saves in Penn State’s 5-1 victory while another freshman, Tim Acker, led the way on the offensive side. Acker scored twice while Bryce Johnson, George Saad and Mike McDonagh also lit the lamp in the win.
Through six games played, Musico is undefeated (5-0 with a shootout win) to go along with a 1.31 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage. It may not be long until he replaces Matt Madrazo on a full-time basis. And that would be no small feat; as a freshman last season, Madrazo captured the ACHA Rookie of the Year honor and was also voted as the team’s Most Valuable Player.
The Icers are now 11-1-0 on the campaign and remain idle until December 2-3, when Rutgers comes to town for two games at the Greenberg Ice Pavilion.
Speaking of that famed Pavilion (and by famed we mean a dump of a hockey “arena”), in less than 12 months, a new era will begin for Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics when the hockey program – both men’s and women’s – finally takes the incredibly exciting and long-awaited leap into Division I status. For hockey zealots who share that passion for Penn State sports, it will be the realization of a long-tenured wish.
Funny – all it took was a quick, cool hundred million bucks. Thank you, big oil. Thank you, Royal Dutch Shell. Thank you, Terry Pegula.
There is plenty of time ahead to discuss this development, but for the moment, don’t forget about the final curtain call for the entity known as the Icers. While the Daily Collegian might still use that moniker going forward in its game recaps (akin to the men’s basketball team being referred to as the “Cagers” and the girls tennis team’s nickname of “Netwomen”), starting in September of 2012, both teams will officially be named the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Ice hockey Nittany Lions, that is.
The Icers will undoubtedly be missed. A cult following which has packed the Pavilion to capacity for over two decades will settle into new spectating digs several hundred feet to the east of Shields Building. While Pegula Ice Arena won’t officially open until the fall of 2013, this will be the final season for the Icers; next season, the Penn State Nittany Lions ice hockey team – as an independent – will play its first and only season at the Pavilion before setting up shop at the PIA the following October.
On Monday, the athletic office issued a release about the incoming 10 players who will comprise a majority of next season’s roster. The signees include six forwards, three defensemen and netminder Matthew Skoff, who along with blueliner Connor Varley are the only two of the group who hail from the Commonwealth. In shocking fashion, five of the remaining eight are from Canada. Go figure.
“This is the first-ever Division 1 class for Penn State Hockey, and these players will be great building blocks to add to the foundation that is being formed right now,” said Gadowsky. “The entire class brings a commitment to academics, as well as size, character, hockey intelligence…and experience in the top junior leagues in North America.”
For those not in the know, this Icers program has been one of the best in the country at the club level through the years. With seven national titles, including four consecutive crowns in the early 2000s, former head coach Joe Battista built a powerhouse which has yet to slow down. Earlier this year when the Big Ten Conference revealed that it would form a new six-team league following the announcement of Penn State’s transition to varsity status, nobody walking the planet was happier than JoeBa. While certainly the new phase of the program wouldn’t have come to fruition without the incredible generosity of Pegula, it was Battista who gave him a reason to open his checkbook.