Here is a complete transcript of head coach Josh Brandwene's comments at the women's team's media day Wednesday afternoon.
What do you see as an opportunity for Penn State with starting the Division I program this season, in terms of how that’s going to help out with youth hockey in this state? Can Penn State turn into the right school for all the people that do play hockey here?
It’s going to be the whole package here. And you referenced the community piece of it, so I’ll start there. Kim and Terry Pegula were very committed, in their process with this, to making sure that obviously, first and foremost, it was a state of the art, second-to-none home for the men’s and women’s varsity programs. But it will also be a great resource for the community as well. So this is going to do wonders for taking an already good and just growing it and making it bigger on the community and youth level. It’s going to be a great resource for the whole county.
Back then [in the late 80s, early 90s, when Brandwene played], I know there’s been a lot of times when Penn State came close to starting a Division I program. Did you ever think it would happen when you were here 20 years ago?
I think it’s been a dream and a vision for a lot of people for a long time, and certainly when you reference that, you have to talk about Joe Battista and the torch that he has carried with this project for so many years. So to see it come to fruition with the generosity of the Pegulas and where we are today, and right up the hill with the construction site, it’s an incredibly exciting time.
Have you kept in touch with Joe through the years, before you got hired?
Was he always talking about ‘we gotta get this done’ and everything, or…?
No, I think through the years, it’s just more of – he was a great mentor and a great role model for me, and someone who’s been a great friend for a long time, and we shared the common bond of coaching, but no, this wasn’t a topic of conversation. But great things have happened, and here we all are.
You have a reputation as a builder, even going back to West Virginia and Delaware. What lessons from those previous stops can you maybe apply to building a new team, which is a little bit different?
It makes it so exciting. Because there are a lot of similarities, but there’s certainly the difference, in terms of it being sort of starting a program from scratch. The things that you learn along the way are how much culture matters, and it matters from day one. So the real gift in this, and the real opportunity, is that we’re starting a culture from scratch. These kids who are here have bought into everything we are doing, they’ve bought into being terrific representatives of Penn State, being great pioneers for the program, and being a part of something special and bigger than themselves.
You took this job last June, basically building up to this point – you have a season that starts in two days. That has to feel pretty good.
It does. Even going back to fall semester arrival day, it was like ‘wow.’ This has gone from being a concept to being a reality. And when you grind away and work that hard at it for that long, to see everyone arrive, and to start to have the opportunity to count down to the start of the season, and here we are just a couple days away, it makes it real.
Talk a little bit about the importance of having three players who, not only have played against Vermont before, but have never lost to them. I think [Nicole] Paniccia has a shutout and [Jenna] Welch has a game-winning goal [against Vermont] or something like that. How important will their influence be this weekend?
Their influence all season is big. They’ve already had a tremendous influence during the preseason, because they’ve been there and they’ve done that. They’ve gone through the rhythms of preseason, they’ve gone through the rigors of being a Division I student-athlete, and they understand what it takes to be successful on a day-to-day basis for everything – the hard work, the discipline, making sure you get rest, all the things that are necessary in order to peak and be playing your best hockey at the end of the season. That’s a really important goal for us.
Have a chance to catch any of the CHA games last weekend?
Little bits and pieces. We had our own intrasquad here, and certainly the priority was us and reviewing where we are, and where we’re headed, and the things we still need to work on.
Any first impressions from what you were able to see?
I think it’s going to be a great circuit for us, every day is going to be really challenging and really competitive, and we’ve certainly got a great program in Mercyhurst that’s been sort of the frontrunner in the league for a lot of time, and Mike Sisti’s done a great job building that program. And certainly Robert Morris and where they are and where they’ve come in a short period of time. We’re looking forward to the opportunity to compete with everyone in our league every day. It’s going to be a great circuit.
When you guys went out to recruit this team – you have the Pittsburgh Penguins girls, the Honeybaked girls, the UConn girls – was there kind of a snowball effect in putting this team together?
Well I think the hockey world is always a small one, and so I think those personal connections are things that are typical in the hockey world, where you go to tournaments and everybody knows one another. And for us, the big thing was ‘what do we want in a student-athlete here at Penn State?’ It starts with character, it’s about academic ability and academic motivation, you have to do really well in the classroom to succeed and meet the academic goals that we have here at Penn State. And then the talent factor as well. We’re looking for awesome hockey players. So it’s really a matter of putting those three things together to be the total package and able to contribute here. So we’re really excited about the group we have.
How different is it for you to be transitioning to a team that’s never played together before?
It’s the neatest, most challenging experience. On the one hand, we’ve got the big challenge of doing so much, and putting so much together in such a little amount of time. But what’s neat about it is that
we have the opportunity to just continue to grow, get better every day, and work on making sure that – not only over the short term but the long term – we’re preparing these student-athletes as individuals and collectively as a team to continue to get better every day.
What is it like to have a young team, with 17 freshmen?
Honestly, it’s awesome. They’re so enthusiastic, they so want to learn, they so want to give their best on behalf of the team and the program. For us as coaches, it makes coming to the rink every day a special experience.
What are some of the challenges in particular for this weekend against Vermont?
I think the newness factor. It’s new for so many people. Then there’s the excitement piece of it. We really want them to live in the moment, enjoy the experience, give 110 percent, and feel really good about their effort when the day is over.
How important do you think it is to start off the season strong?
I think it’s important for any team in any sport in any program to get off to the best possible start they can. And it starts with hard work, it starts with dedication to each other and being committed to one another as teammates, and going out and playing the best hockey we possibly can at both ends of the ice.
|Left to right: Brandwene, senior defender Lindsay Reihl and junior forward Taylor Gross
at the jersey unveiling in September.
What are some of your goals or key factors to having a good season?
Key factors are getting better every day. We have a real opportunity to – we’ve worked hard, we’re getting better already – we want to make sure we continue to work and get better every day. And if we can get better every day, our goal is to be playing our best hockey of the season at league playoff time. That would be really exciting for us.
With so many new pieces coming together, how has the team chemistry progressed through preseason practice?
Honestly, the team chemistry has been great, and I credit so many different people for that. Our freshman class has been phenomenal. They really just wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and so they’re committed not only to their own individual growth and development as a player, but they want the team, and they want the university, and they want this athletic program to be successful. That’s the kind of kids we were looking for. And then you’ve got our leadership. And it starts with Taylor Gross, what a fabulous mentor she is for younger players. And you add Jenna Welch and Lindsay Reihl as assistant captains. The team did a phenomenal job in picking them. What a great mix in terms of our leadership that our young team is going to have.
Do you not see it as a challenge facing teams that have already been around and have had that team chemistry for a few years?
There’s certainly plenty of challenge to go around for us. We’re going to face uphill battles, we’re going to face moments of great challenge and great adversity. And it’s how we handle those moments and those challenges that are going to allow us to accomplish that goal of getting better every day and playing our best hockey at the end of the season.
What was Joe Battista like as a coach?
Fiery, intense, cares deeply about his players, and he’s the same way today. He cares about Penn State, cares about this project and this athletic program, and he cares about the people who are working here. He wants everyone to share in its success, and that’s what makes him the person that he is.
He’s been with Penn State doing this for 25 years, is he the type of guy who just gets things done? Did he have that attitude when he was the coach?
I think so. If you think about the transition the program went through in his early years here. The Icers, on his arrival, there was a good following, there was good support for it, but it just . . . exploded a couple years into his arrival here, and he really sustained that. And so there’s a lot to be said for his passion and enthusiasm that he has for Penn State.
When you were playing for him, did you realistically think that somewhere down the road, Penn State would have Division I?
I think it was always a dream, it was always a goal for anyone who contributed to the program. There just wasn’t a great sense of when it was going to happen. We’re all just very grateful that it’s here now.
Anything you can tell us about the lineup for this weekend?
We’re almost to that point, so stay tuned, it’s part of our process in terms of how we approach things, not only during training camp, but on a day-to-day basis and then a week-to-week basis. A lot of that has to do with whether games are Friday and Saturday versus Saturday and Sunday. So the Saturday-Sunday thing changes the timeline a little bit.
We’re about to go out and watch a practice. Who has stood out so far, or what should we be looking for?
You’ll notice the intensity, you’ll notice the enthusiasm, you’ll notice how committed they are to really just getting after it from the minute they get on the ice all the way through. And again, that makes our job as coaches just that much more enjoyable, because they want to learn and they want to get better.
Which of the 17 freshmen are going to be asked to get something done on the ice?
Oh I think a lot of them are going to be asked to get something done on the ice. We’ve got great veterans, we’ve got great leaders, and they’re certainly going to be asked to contribute a tremendous amount. But we’re going to have to have contributions in every way, shape or form from freshmen right from the get-go when you talk about even strength, penalty kill and power play in order for us to be successful. And that’s exciting for them, they get an opportunity to contribute in those ways right away, in order to get better.