Inspired O'Brien, Penn State look toward future


Inspired O'Brien, Penn State look toward future

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Back from the recruiting trail, Bill O'Brien returned to his Penn State office this week for one-on-one meetings with players and a sit-down with his staff about the roster.

Nearly a year after taking on the challenge of guiding the Nittany Lions, O'Brien has settled in quite nicely into the coach's corner suite at the football building.

``It was a very good start to a new era of Penn State football. Just like any season, you wish you had a few plays back,'' O'Brien said Tuesday in a phone interview with The Associated Press. ``At the end of the day, it seems like a successful season.''

Given unprecedented circumstances this season, an 8-4 record in 2012 can be considered a resounding success. Of course, every coach and player wants to win as many games as possible, so in that respect, the Nittany Lions are hardly satisfied.

But after a year in which the NCAA slammed the program with landmark sanctions, the team's blue-collar, never-say-die approach inspired a massive fan base looking to rally around players that had nothing to do with the child sex abuse scandal involving retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

The 24-21 win over Wisconsin in the season finale might have been the microcosm of the challenging year, a season that O'Brien sees as a blueprint for the future.

``It definitely would be a model from the standpoint of guys playing very physical, playing hard, practicing with great effort and for the most part playing good situational football,'' O'Brien said. ``It was a good start for us.''

O'Brien said he had a ``positive vibe'' after finishing up with the last of the individual meetings with about 85 players Monday. The initial focus, he said, was on making sure the Nittany Lions were getting ready for finals this week.

Graduation remains a priority at Penn State through the regime change from the late coach Joe Paterno. The American Football Coaches Association this week honored Penn State for its 91-percent graduation success rate, a program record. It was the 22nd time Penn State had received such an honor.

``I've said from Day 1, when you talk about the culture of football as it relates to the players, we've got a very good culture in terms of the balance of athletics and academics,'' O'Brien said. ``Do we have a bunch of valedictorians? No. But we have a bunch of kids who understand the meaning of hard work and the value of getting an education.''

O'Brien also isn't shy about laying out the challenges ahead.

Scholarship reductions are the most pressing issue. The NCAA sanctions in July limit Penn State's recruiting classes to no more than 15 a year for the next four years, starting with the 2013 class to be signed in early February. Most teams can sign 25.

The caveat is that a certain number of players who sign early and enroll in January will count against 2012 - for which there are no such scholarship limits. That means the 2013 class could have more than 15 signees.

Starting with the 2014 season, the Nittany Lions can only have 65 players on scholarship until after the 2017 season. The usual scholarship limit for major college teams is 85.

``As the years go, it's going to be difficult,'' O'Brien said. ``Look we don't have as many scholarship players as the teams we're playing.

``Those are the cards we've been dealt. We need a little bit of luck. But at the same time, we're going to continue to recruit high-character, high-quality guys.''

Still, recruiting appears to be going well. O'Brien is also optimistic about attracting high-quality walk-ons from Pennsylvania who will need to fill the depth chart. They're now called ``run-ons'' at Penn State because of the need to show hustle on the practice field.

``You never know until guys sign on the dotted line,'' O'Brien said. ``But we feel good with where we're at.''

Getting a strong corps of run-ons will require strong networking with Pennsylvania high school coaches, a collective relationship that O'Brien thinks is off to a good start. As an example, Penn State assistants were very visible at last weekend's state high school football finals in Hershey.

O'Brien himself even took in a game from the sideline - when he wasn't bombarded by high school assistants or other onlookers wanting to shake his hand.

``When you go out on the road and you see how much (the season) meant to people around the state, especially to win the last game, I think it was a good start,'' O'Brien said.

There's one more part of the job that no other coach has.

O'Brien also has to hang on to his own players, since the NCAA gave current Nittany Lions an opportunity to transfer and play right away because of the sanctions, instead of being forced to sit out the season.

The waiver period lasts until the start of the 2013 preseason in August. O'Brien said Tuesday that no one had left the team since the end of the 2012 campaign, and that he expected the roster to stay intact headed into spring practice in March.

Asked to assess the state of the program, O'Brien said his outlook has improved since the summer.

``When the sanctions came out, I was very concerned. But we went out and played hard, practiced hard and we won some games,'' he said. ``Every year is different.

``The 2013 team has to establish its own identity.''

It has a tough act to follow, too.


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Caps leave All-Star Game with plenty of highlights, but no wins

Caps leave All-Star Game with plenty of highlights, but no wins

ST. LOUIS -- There was no All-Star championship for the Metropolitan Division All-Stars this year. The Metro was not able to defend its crown in 2020 as it fell 9-5 to the Atlantic Division in the first game of the All-Star Game tournament on Saturday.

Despite the early loss, the Capitals certainly left their mark on the event. Here were the highlights:

An ovation for Oshie

T.J. Oshie began his NHL career in St. Louis and remains a fan favorite there even now in the midst of his fifth season in Washington. That was evident when Oshie was introduced to the crowd to thunderous applause.

“I think it's a pretty cool story,” Oshie said. “It's something that I'm going to enjoy telling the kids and grandkids down the road. But I think the coolest part for me was just the cheers from the fans when my name was called a couple times there. I enjoyed playing here. I love playing in D.C. though, but I had some good experiences here, some heartbreaks, some pretty good teams we played on. Just to get back here, just kind of crazy that my first All-Star Game ended up being in St. Louis. It was a great weekend, it was fun, the fans were awesome as always.”

The starting lineup

Todd Reirden went with what he knew to start the game as Oshie and John Carlson both started the game with Braden Holtby in net. The only non-Cap to start was New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal.

The Barzal, Oshie, Carlson trio seemed to find some chemistry through the game and Oshie had nothing but positive things to say of the speedy forward after the game.

“Obviously his skill level's off the charts, just skating, his stickhandling and vision on the ice,” Oshie said. “Obviously we would've liked to put up some more goals, but it's nice trying to get open and have him find me than chase him around the ice and just try to not get made a fool of. It was awesome. He's a great kid. It was nice kind of getting to know him off the ice here these last couple days.”

While Oshie wished for more production, that line actually acquitted itself nicely. Oshie recorded one goal and one assist, Carlson had one goal and Barzal had two assists.

Carlson scores a milestone

The Atlantic Division jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but Carlson scored the first goal of the game for the Metro.

Holtby broke up a scoring chance for the Atlantic as he blocked a centering pass with his stick which sparked the breakout in the other direction. Carlson and Barzal had a 2-on-1 opportunity and Barzal set up Carlson for the shot past a helpless Frederik Anderson. Oshie recorded a secondary assist on the goal.

That was not just the Caps’ first goal of the game, it was the first goal by a Caps defenseman at the All-Star Game in franchise history, according to the team. Quite the milestone.

“That’s great,” Carlson said. “I guess I had no idea.”

Oshie scores in St. Louis

I mean, he had to, right? His first All-Star game coming in St. Louis, there was no way Oshie was going to walk away from this game without scoring.

The Metro Division cycled in the offensive zone and Seth Jones dropped the puck off to Oshie near the blue line. He cut up the middle then fired a shot to the corner to beat Anderson, making him the eighth player in Caps’ franchise history to score at an All-Star Game.

Coach Osh in the house

Oshie’s family has always been the talk of Washington because of how adorable his daughters are and that was on full display again on Saturday. But it was Oshie’s dad who stole the show.

Oshie’s father suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. That makes traveling very difficult. After Oshie’s goal, however, the broadcast cut to Oshie waving up to his father who had been able to make the trip to St. Louis.

“It's always great to have Coach Osh around,” Oshie said. “He missed our fathers' trip this year, it's kind of hard for him to travel, but we were able to make it work for him to come to St. Louis where a lot of the people you see working down here behind the scenes probably know him better than they know me, so he got to see some old friends. Just special to have him here to witness my first All-Star Game in person.”

Oshie added, “There's certain milestones that I've made in my career that I want him to be a part of if he's able to make it and this was one of them He came to St. Louis quite a bit when I played and he has a lot of friends here, a lot of people that treat him really good as well. This was something that I didn't want him to miss."

Holtby ends on a high-note

Let’s face it, the All-Star Game does not favor the goalies. A 3-on-3 tournament is meant to promote as much scoring as possible. As a result, it is often a tough night for the netminders and that was true for Holtby who made five saves on nine shots in his single period of play. But Holtby was able to end his night on a high note with one of the top saves of the game.

David Pastrnak set up Shea Weber on the far-side for what looked like a lay-up on Holtby, but Holtby was able to stretch the pad for the fantastic toe save to deny Weber.

“It felt good to make a save,” Holtby said.

“It's difficult, but it's fun too,” Holtby said of the 3-on-3 format. “It's challenging. I think guys are starting to figure it out a little bit more with the cross-ice pass and stuff. But it's fun to be a part of.”

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Oshie gets warm All-Star welcome on St. Louis return, scores with dad in attendance

Oshie gets warm All-Star welcome on St. Louis return, scores with dad in attendance

Former St. Louis Blues forward T.J. Oshie was welcomed back to Enterprise Arena fondly by the NHL All-Star crowd that included his family.

At the end of Oshie's entrance on to the ice, the camera showed plenty of Blues players cheering for him. In seven seasons with St. Louis, Oshie played 443 games and tallied 310 points (110 G, 200 A) and a +71 plus/minus rating. He even served as an alternate captain for his final two seasons before being traded to the Capitals for Troy Brouwer, Pheonix Copley and a 2016 third-round draft pick. 

That wasn't all for Oshie's All-Star performance -- he scored 5:29 into the first period to give the Metropolitan Division team a 3-2 lead.

Oshie is the eighth Capitals player in franchise history to score in the NHL All-Star Game.

Oshie's family, including his dad, Tim, affectionately known as "Coach Osh," was in attendance to witness his first All-Star appearance, making the moment even more special.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.