The lockers have been cleared, the ice has been removed and the equipment has been stored, but the impact of the 2014-2015 season for the Penn State men’s hockey team will resonate in the coming years.
In terms of the economic impact for the university, upswing in recruiting for the team, and support of the surrounding community, men’s hockey is one of the best performing athletic programs for Penn State right now.
They Just Can’t Get Enough: Just as a film’s success is partially defined by the success of its sequel, sales of season tickets can be indicative of
how well a team is doing. Now that Penn State hockey season tickets have officially sold out for the next season, and with the knowledge that Pegula is averaging 6,030 fans per game, even though the stadium only has seats for 5,782 people, it’s obvious that the Nittany Lions are serious, especially since they’ve only just celebrated their third birthday.
To add perspective, only two of the 31 men’s hockey games have not sold out.
Student season tickets will go on sale later this week, but Nittany Lion head coach and reigning Big Ten Coach of the Year Guy Gadowsky isn’t worried about filling the student section, nicknamed the Roar Zone, either.
“It exceeded every fantasy I had about having a student section that motivates you,” he said. “I think they’re a huge part of the success we’ve had here. They motivate [the team] almost more than anything I can do.”
Revenue Revolution: Athletic departments are not immune to economic downturns. In fact, programs across the country are seeing profits dwindle. However, unlike other programs around the nation, the Nittany Lions hockey team isn’t operating at a loss. In fact, it’s Penn State’s third highest grossing sport, falling only behind football and men’s basketball, raking more than $993,000 during the last season.
Penn State’s ability to make nearly $1 million so early in its existence and in a conference not known for a strong hockey presence speaks volumes about the accomplishments and impact of the team.
Relative to the age of the program, the Nittany Lions have had electric success over the past season. Penn State posted an 18-14-4 record and were in the running for a Big Ten Tournament first-round bye until the last week of the season, followed by an early exit from the tournament.
Even though Penn State didn’t get the fairy-tale ending to its season, the team shouldn’t be disappointed. Nearly every positive record was broken in the 2014-2015 season – two Hobey Baker nominees, a Coach of the Year award for Gadowsky and topping several of the Big Ten standings, to name a few.
Although these achievements surely felt good in the moment, the true advantages will come farther down the road for the Nittany Lions. Recruitment will almost certainly flourish in light of the successes of the past season. Not only is Gadowsky a well-respected and seasoned coach, but now he has ties to the NHL.
Although Terry Pegula, benefactor of the men’s hockey team and owner of the Buffalo Sabres, and Joe Battista, vice president of hockey-related business for the Sabres, have connections to both Penn State and the NHL, the allure of a coach that has sent a player to the big leagues is undeniable.
With Casey Bailey’s ascension to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Nittany Lions hockey program is more attractive to recruits.
Once again, considering the age of Hockey Valley, having a program alumnus – one who left the team early after being offered a contract with the Leafs – as a testament to the team’s overall success is perhaps the crown jewel in Gadowsky’s recruiting strategy.
“He’s really elevated his work ethic and he really deserves it. Casey’s proven you can come to Penn State and develop quite quickly into someone that’s attractive to NHL teams.”
Gadowsky’s Goals: The Nittany Lions aren’t just about star power. The team’s impact in the community has helped to ease them into their role as one of Penn State’s greatest influences.
From their impressive statement at THON, to James Franklin’s invitation to Gadowsky to join his Coaches Caravan, to the kids’ hockey clinic during the recent Garth Brooks concert, the men’s hockey team has been thrust into the spotlight and thus far, has been very well-received.
With their place in the spotlight, the Nittany Lions are using their position to cultivate the game.
“Hockey is growing, but it’s still not there yet, especially college hockey. So, out of all the kids here today if one or two of them grows a love for the game, then I think today was a success,” said Eric Scheid after the children’s hockey clinic.
Now that Hockey Valley and Hockeyville are in the same state, Gadowsky hopes that interest in hockey will continue to grow.
“Ideally, you want the recruiting footprint to shrink,” Gadowsky said. “The more individuals who are involved with youth hockey in the state of Pennsylvania, the better off the entire state will be.”
The Nittany Lions will play a total of 18 games in the 2015-2016 season, nine of which will take place at Pegula Ice Arena in University Park. The schedule will be released later this year.
Inset 1: news.psu.edu
Inset 2: centerdaily.com