Thursday, April 28, 2011

Breakout Past: Princeton Connections

Since Head Coach Candidate is officially dead and buried, I wanted to replace it with a series that involved diving into the Daily Collegian archives for old articles. Then I thought, hey, both that idea and Payday Memorabilia are pretty much the same thing - find something from a while ago and tell a story about it. Accordingly, I'm combining the two ideas under one umbrella: "Breakout Past." It might be memorabilia. It might be an article. But it will be every Thursday and it will be awesome. This first edition has the added bonus of dropping both memorabilia and article to get things started.

It seems unlikely that Penn State and Princeton would have any shared hockey history beyond the fact that one just stole the other's coach. After all, prior to that, Princeton was working on a century-plus of NCAA hockey history, and while PSU had a short-lived varsity program, most of its history was of the non-varsity variety.

However, on an unusually tolerable January day in Pittsburgh, the two schools shared the same sheet of ice at the same event, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette College Hockey Showcase.

I don't even remember half of what happened last season, let alone 2003, so let's hit up the Collegian for some details on the Icers' dismantling of Washington & Jefferson in the nightcap. Unfortunately, it gets an abbreviated treatment since it happened over winter break.
Penn State jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the first period. However, the Presidents came back early in the second period and challenged the No. 1 team in the ACHA for the entire 20 minutes. Following the second intermission and an inspired speech from Penn State coach Joe Battista, the Icers pulled away from the over-matched Washington and Jefferson squad for a 7-1 win.

"I probably chewed them out more at the end of the second than I have all year," Battista said. "They were playing for the crowd. In the third period we went back to playing team hockey."
Penn State went on to win its seventh - and final, unless it happens next year - ACHA national championship by defeating Ohio on their home ice.

That crowd Battista referenced, an announced 5,430 in Mellon Arena's 16,940 seats, saw an NCAA game served as the warm-up act, with Ohio State pulling away in the third to down Princeton 4-1. It was a happy homecoming of sorts for future NHLer R.J. Umberger and others on the OSU roster:
Ohio State has four Pittsburgh natives on its roster and two of them, juniors R.J. Umberger and Mike Betz, played large parts in the Buckeyes’ victory. Umberger scored the game’s first goal and added an assist in the third period on Scott May’s insurance goal for a two-point night. Betz made 19 saves, including three key stops during a third-period power play by the Tigers.
Future NHLer Rod Pelley also sniped, and future NHLer Dave Steckel chipped in a empty-net helper.

In a (very) tiny footnote to history, the OSU-Princeton game - the first NCAA Division I hockey game played in the City of Pittsburgh - was supposed to be the late game, but it was moved up to accommodate Buckeye fans who wanted to watch their football team play Miami for the national championship in the Fiesta Bowl that night.

Ohio State would go on to finish 25-13-5 and make the NCAA tournament. Princeton, on the other hand, would win just one game the rest of the season en route to 3-26-2. When 5-24-2 constituted "improvement" for the Tigers in 2003-2004, in came none other than Guy Gadowsky to save the day. Little did any Icers fans in the crowd that day know that by watching Princeton lose, they were witnessing a microscopic piece of the chain reaction that would lead to Gadowsky eventually coaching at Penn State. Things have a funny way of being connected in ways you can't even fathom while they're happening sometimes.

Actually, Penn State and Princeton - the Tigers' JV, anyway - crossed paths one other time. On February 3, 1940, and despite PSU's 4-0 loss, Penn State Hockey Hall of Famer Larry Lightbody wowed the crowd at legendary Hobey Baker Memorial Rink with his goaltending.


  1. What's going to happen to Scott Balboni? I feel kind of bad for the guy. What happens to the present club players? Are they grandfathered in with scholarships or is PSU starting with a clean slate?

  2. Sorry for the delayed response - I was a little bit off the radar this past weekend. My understanding right now is that Coach Balboni will be the bench coach for this coming season, although Coach Gadowsky will have final say on how things are done. That may have changed at some point, but that's how I heard Joe Battista outline the role of the NCAA coach for 2011-12 in an interview a couple months ago (pre-hire, obviously). After that, he could move into an athletic department role, but even if not, he'll land on his feet with his business interests.

    The present club players who will still be around in 2012-13 will all be considered for the varsity team, although they're unlikely to earn scholarships because we're starting out with only a few and ramping up to the 18 over a couple years. Everyone recruited from this point forward is being pursued with the varsity team in mind, so really, the only people we're talking about there are the freshmen and sophomores from this past year's Icers team.