Penn State officials suspected they had the right man to lead its leap into Division I hockey even before Guy Gadowsky officially introduced himself. The Princeton coach was out of town on a recruiting trip when someone from Penn State summoned him to State College for an interview.
Gadowsky took the first flight home to New Jersey and drove four hours into central Pennsylvania. He spoke passionately about academics and hockey, in that order, when he arrived. He struck a balance between confidence and humility. He was excited about the opportunity.
All this even though he already had a terrific gig. All things considered, it doesn't get much better than the Ivy League. Princeton had an abundance of intelligent players and good kids without overwhelming pressure to win. Penn State offered smart kids, a great conference and a first-class operation thanks mostly to Terry Pegula.
It was a dream job.
"It was really tough to leave Princeton," said Gadowsky, who was in town Wednesday as part of a Penn State coaching caravan. "I cannot say enough about the experience that I had at Princeton and the guys we got it done with. But this was a different deal. It was just too much to pass up."
Penn State knew it had the right man March 6, when it lost the national semifinal for college club teams. It wasn't reaching that game that was impressive. It was a decision Gadowsky made about how he operated, a decision that ultimately might have cost Penn State the title.
The Nittany Lions were 28-4 when an altercation broke out in the quarterfinals in which Oklahoma goalie Nick Holmes was forced to serve a major penalty for head-butting Penn State leading scorer Justin Kirchhevel. Penn State scored twice on the backup goalie, added an empty-netter and won, 6-3. Gadowsky discovered a problem upon further review. Kirchhevel instigated the whole thing.
His actions were not the Penn State way and certainly not the Gadowsky way. He could have scolded Kirchhevel but instead used the path of most resistance as a teaching tool. He benched his star forward for the biggest game of the season.
Penn State ended up losing to Oakland in the semifinal, a tough loss for a team that finished 29-5 but a major victory for the program. Gadowsky sent a clear message that he wouldn't tolerate inappropriate behavior. He was committed to Penn State's motto: Success with honor.
"We're building a foundation for doing things right," he said. "The words, 'Success with honor,' they're just words until you follow through with that. What happened, I felt, was an incident that I felt spoke [against] success with honor. We want to do things the right way. You can't just talk about it. This needed a response. It had to be done."
Success with honor hasn't come easily for Penn State amid the scandal involving former football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Criminal charges that he sexually abused boys rocked the university and put the athletic department on trial. Success rarely has been an issue at Penn State, honor a different matter.
Penn State needs all departments aboard to rebuild its reputation while the scrutiny continues about the school. It's more important than ever that every team maintains integrity once taken for granted. It means conducting business the right way, all day, every day -- the Penn State way.
Pegula did his part when he dropped $88 million for men's and women's hockey. The Pegula Ice Arena will be a 6,000-seat jewel with steep stairs and a low ceiling, ideal for hockey. Penn State's website said Pegula added another $14 million, which should be no surprise in Buffalo.
The Nittany Lions will jump to Division I next season and play as an independent team before joining the Big 10 in 2013-14. Growing pains are inevitable, but it shouldn't be long before it starts competing with the best.
Gadowsky, 44, will guide them there. He was in high school in Edmonton when Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers came into prominence. They influenced his coaching philosophy and helped him develop an up-tempo, entertaining style that made him the best coach in Princeton history.
Recruiting shouldn't be a problem. During his visit, he marveled over Penn State's emphasis on academics. He discovered the energy and confidence coming from the students through athletics. He saw its potential as it plowed forward. He couldn't wait to get started. Funny, but that's precisely how Penn State felt about him.
"You get on campus and see everybody wearing the colors," Gadowsky said. "You want any sporting event and you hear the student body. You start paying attention anywhere you go in the world and see them flying the colors. And you hear, "We Are " and it's pretty special."
And now he is Penn State.
It sounds like a perfect match.