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Mendelson set to join Nittany Lions

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Penn State is perhaps best-known for being a football powerhouse, but the Nittany Lions’ hockey program, under the direction of of fourth-year coach Guy Gadowsky, is one of the fastest growing hockey programs in the country.

The Nittany Lions transitioned to Division I in 2012, and it has been an accelerated climb since. The 2014-15 season culminated with Gadowsky earning Big 10 coach of the year honors.

At the same time, Pittsburgh has blossomed into growth area for youth hockey over the last decade or so. That success, combined with a big-name program in the middle of Pennsylvania, may turn out to be a perfect storm for the sport.

Upper Saint Clair’s own Matt Mendelson has capitalized on the timing, perhaps becoming the first in a long time of local prep players who make the way to Happy Valley to play hockey. Mendelson has spent the last couple of seasons playing in the top-junior hockey league in the United States following a stint with the Penguins Elite.

“I am actually a fourth generation Penn Stater,” Mendelson said. “A lot of my family has gone there, and that combined with the academics, the beautiful facilities and the athletic reputation, it was pretty much a no brainer for me.”

Most recently, Mendelson’s sister, Cara, was a member of the Penn State women’s hockey team and played a vital role in helping lure her younger brother to Happy Valley.

“I do not know if it would’ve happened without her,” Mendelson said. “She just told me how much she loved her life here every day, and how much she loved being a Penn State hockey player, and how it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

Mendelson had offers from a slew of Ivy League schools such as Dartmouth, Yale and Cornell but still elected to stay in-state at Penn State. He even visited Cornell, right before taking an official visit to Penn State. While he said that he knew Cornell would’ve been a good fit, bit couldn’t compete with the vibe he got in State College.

“Penn State is an excellent education in itself,” Gadowsky added. “It is the number one, largest, alumni network in the world. When it comes down to it, when you graduate, it’s not only about the ranking of the education, because remember Penn State is tremendous, but it’s also the network that comes with it, and there is no other university in the world that can match Penn State’s.”

The addition of Mendelson to the Penn State hockey team should help Gadowsky establish the program in western Pennsylvania, is slowly becoming an important recruiting foothold.

“Western PA, as well as all of PA is very important to us,” Gadowsky said. “We are not Minnesota yet, but you look at how well youth hockey is doing in this state and the more and more great players coming out of it, trust me, we want the best players from this state.”

Gadowsky raved about Mendelson’s character and how highly his former teammates spoke of him.

“I think every time you get not only a really good player, but more importantly a really good person, people from their hometown or area will look up to someone as a great person,” Gadowsky said. ”Obviously for that reason we have high expectations for Matt, not only for what he is going to do on ice for us and for our program but as an alumni in the future... I hope a lot of people from Pittsburgh get a chance to come to Pegula Ice Arena and get to see him play.”

Mendelson and Penn State open up their season on October 4, with a home game against Windsor.

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