How Well Did Penn State Hockey Answer Our Five Big Preseason Questions?

By Jacob Cheris on March 26, 2021 at 2:36 pm
Penn State Hockey goaltender Oskar Autio makes a save against Notre Dame.
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On Sunday, the NCAA released a Frozen Four bracket without Penn State, thus ending the Nittany Lions' season. Prior to the start of the campaign, I wrote an article about five big questions facing the Nittany Lions. Some of those questions were answered and some were not. Let's take a look.

Who's in goal?

The most important position of any hockey team is the goaltender. The goaltending tandem of Oskar Autio and Liam Souliére was looking like it was going to be a 1A/1B rotation. However, thanks to some underclassman struggles for Souliére and improving play for Autio, that debate was settled. Autio was a legit number one goaltender for the Nittany Lions and came up huge down the stretch. Since Penn State's first win back on Dec. 3, he had a .903 save percentage and 2.95 goals-against average. The goals against are a bit high and the save percentage is a little low, but for a first-year starting netminder, the results were strong.

Who's going to play with Paul denaples?

The short answer was Clayton Phillips. However, Phillips did not have a great year. He led the team with 25 penalty minutes. That is not what you want out of your number one defenseman. Granted that number is high because he had a major penalty for a check to the head that ended with a 10-minute misconduct. Had the season played out fully, it's possible we would have seen Jimmy Dowd Jr. start to get some top-pairing minutes given how well he performed, though it's possible that those minutes may have come at the expense of DeNaples himself, who did not quite have as strong of a campaign as expected.

is the top-6 going to be as productive as last year? 

Again, the short answer was no. However, there were individual players in the top six that had breakout seasons. Kevin Wall went from being in and out of the lineup last year, to performing as a legitimate first-line winger. He was Penn State's most explosive early-season contributor and kept it up through the schedule, playing at a point-per-game rate, finishing the year off with 19 points. Alex Limoges was also excellent, leading the team with 22 points after a somewhat slow start. A surprise performance came from Tim Doherty, the graduate transfer from Maine. Doherty provided great stability and flexibility on the top two lines. He played as both a center and wing, he played on both the first and second line, and he played on the power play. This turned out to be a great acquisition for Guy Gadowsky. He had 18 points on the year.

can Aarne Talvitie have a breakout season?

Talvitie was inconsistent in 2020/21. It seemed as if he alternated from going pointless in a series to then putting up multi-point games. He finished the year with 13 points in 21 games which is a career-low. The junior forward was expected to have a point-per-game type season, and though he fell short of that mark, he still showcased his big-time potential at times. On Thursday, it was announced that he signed a two-year entry-level contract (ELC) with the New Jersey Devils. With this announcement, his career at Penn State has come to a close. He will report to the Devils' minor league club, the Binghamton Devils. He will go to the AHL for the rest of the 2020-21 season, and his ELC will start next year.

How will Penn State play at home?

Penn State was 7-3-0 at Pegula Ice Arena this year. I asked this question because fans play an important role in creating momentum for a team. The Roar Zone is considered to be one of the toughest places to play in and that presence was missed this season. Since Wall's game-winning goal back in February 2020, Pegula has been silent. Fans are hopeful that they will be back in stadiums sooner rather than later.

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