Hockey is almost back, folk(e)s. The Penn State men’s hockey team drops the puck on its 2017-18 season in twenty four days; the Nittany Lions will open the season against Clarkson on the road October 6th.
With opening night just around the corner, head coach Guy Gadowsky has just a few weeks to get his team’s line combinations ready for game one. Here’s a projection of what Gadowsky’s first defensive pairings of the season could look like when they hit the ice in Potsdam, NY.
Although line combinations frequently change over the course of a hockey season, one constant for Penn State will be in the crease almost every game. As a freshman, Jones won the Big Ten tournament MVP en route to the Nittany Lions’ first-ever conference title and NCAA Tournament bid.
He finished the season with a 23-10-2 record, a 2.60 goals-against average, and a .904 save percentage. His strong season earned him an invitation to the San Jose Sharks’ development camp. The Langhorne, PA native will once again be an essential piece of the Penn State hockey puzzle.
Jones’ backup will be Chris Funkey, who posted a 1.79 GAA and .921 save percentage in four appearances last season. Matt Erlichmann will serve as the third-string goalie.
Erik Autio – Trevor Hamilton
New alternate captain Erik Autio will undoubtedly anchor the Nittany Lions’ first defensive pairing. Outside of that, though, it’s difficult to predict who will play alongside him. The safe pick is to slot veteran Trevor Hamilton in next to Autio. For the start of the season, I think this will be Guy Gadowsky’s top defensive pair.
Autio and Hamilton both played in all 39 games last season, and both are defensively sound enough to create a formidable top pair in front of Peyton Jones. Hamilton is the more attacking-minded of the pair, scoring 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) compared to the Finn’s 18 (three goals, 15 assists).
Kevin Kerr – Cole Hults
Before his season-ending lower body injury, Kevin Kerr was one of Penn State’s most productive defensemen, scoring 15 points in 25 games. He was deployed in all situations, and his return to the lineup makes Penn State’s defense even stronger. I expect the veteran to be paired with rookie Cole Hults to start the year.
Hults, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2017 NHL Draft, is a good puck-moving defenseman who also plays with an edge. It’ll be interesting to see how much discipline he shows this season; he recorded 112 penalty minutes in 59 games for the Madison Capitols (USHL) last year.
Kris Myllari – Adam Pilewicz
Kris Myllari stepped up in a big way after Kevin Kerr’s injury last year. His eight goals were tied for the team lead, and his willingness to sacrifice the body on defense was shown through 82 blocked shots. Expect him to pair up with Adam Pilewicz, a freshman from Sewickley, PA.
Last season, Pilewicz skated as one of the Johnstown Tomahawks’ (NAHL) alternate captains, scoring 27 points in 56 games. This last spot could also be filled by freshman Alex Stevens, who spent the last two seasons with Sioux Falls and Dubuque (USHL), James Gobetz, or veteran Derian Hamilton.
Check back next week when we preview what Penn State’s four forward lines could look like on opening night.