STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State picked a master rebuilder and 15-year coaching veteran to take over an entirely different challenge — leading the school’s fledgling Division I ice hockey program.
Dressed sharply in a dark suit, a blue tie, a white shirt and a Penn State lapel pin, Guy Gadowsky looked the part of the Nittany Lions’ new hockey coach even before he was formally introduced by athletic director Tim Curley at a press conference Monday at Beaver Stadium.
Gadowsky, who spent the past seven seasons coaching at Princeton, spoke of heady goals and building on the enthusiasm over the new Division I program in a hockey-savvy state before briefly trying to tamp down expectations.
“You’re killing my buzz,” he exclaimed to laughs after being asked about the challenges of building the program. “The reality is, yeah, we’re going to face the best programs in the nation, and they have a bit of a head start on us.
“But they don’t have our spirit, so we’re going to catch up sooner than most people think.”
Gadowsky, 43, of Edmonton, took a Tigers program that had won eight games total in the previous two seasons before his arrival to ECAC and Ivy League championships and two NCAA tournament appearances. He was the 2008 Inside College Hockey National Coach of the Year.
He also coached at Alaska-Fairbanks, where he was credited with turning around a 20-loss team into a CCHA contender.
Gadowsky has at least a year’s head start to recruit before Penn State officially hits the ice as a D-I school in 2012. The Nittany Lions will be independent for now. But the move up was the impetus for Big Ten athletic directors last month to officially recommend the formation of a six-team men’s hockey league that would start play in 2013-14. The proposal is expected to be approved by Big Ten presidents in June, and would feature Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
“We are thankful for the tremendous job that Guy has done as the head coach of hockey at Princeton over the last seven years,” Princeton athletic director Gary Walters said in a statement. “Guy is the epitome of understanding the role athletics plays in the educational process at an Ivy League institution.”
Gadowsky was introduced in a crowded Beaver Stadium media room that included his family, local hockey coaches and members of the current club team, the Icers. Penn State had a men’s varsity team from 1939 to 1946. The club team was started in 1971 and has won seven American Collegiate Hockey Association national titles.
“I don’t look at it like we’re building from scratch at all,” Gadowsky said. “There’s already a great fan base. We’re well ahead of the game, that’s for sure.”
But the Division I move was made possible through a gift from Terry and Kim Pegula, who donated $88 million — the largest private gift in Penn State history — to fund a new multipurpose arena and upgrade the men’s program. Terry Pegula, the founder and former president of an energy company involved in the natural gas industry, also bought the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres in February.
Monday’s announcement ended a whirlwind week for Gadowsky, who interviewed in Happy Valley on Thursday and Friday before meeting with Pegula at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia during the Sabres’ 4-3 overtime win over the Flyers in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series.
Gadowsky then accepted the job on Sunday.